Google Home owners were surprised to find themselves bombarded with audio ads for Disney’s upcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast remake this week. On Thursday morning, Reddit user CaptainCaptioni says he was getting ready for work and said “OK Google, good morning” to his Google Home, like he always does. After Google Assistant gave him the time and weather forecast, it started talking about the Disney movie.
Several other Redditors chimed in, saying they had heard it too: “By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast opens today,” Google Assistant said. “In this version of the story, Belle is the inventor instead of Maurice. That rings truer if you ask me. For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle.”
While an ad like this might not be so egregious if someone initiated a conversation about the movie, multiple Google Home owners on Reddit noted that they had never even searched for Beauty and the Beast.
The Verge reached out to Google, but the company refused to admit that the audio clip was an ad:
“This isn’t an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales,” Google said in a statement. As The Verge notes, Google partners “sharing their tales” with consumers who might want to buy a product or see a movie sure sounds like an ad. The pressure continued to build on Thursday as the story spread, and Google eventually released a second statement:
This wasn’t intended to be an ad. What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users and we could have done better in this case.
In the end, the “feature” was removed and Google Home stopped serving up ads for Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, the genie is now out of the bottle, and while the ads might not be as blatant or intrusive in the future, it’s hard to imagine Google ignoring this potential revenue stream altogether.
For now, audio ads appear to be on the shelf, but keep this story in mind next time you think about picking up one of the popular virtual assistants that have already made their way into millions of homes.