When Your House Wants to Talk About Fast Food

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By Tim Moynihan / Published by Dwell
A smart-home marketing stunt gone wrong.

In-home voice assistants are incredibly convenient, but devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home have stoked next-gen privacy concerns. There’s no shortage of reasons to be wary of always-on microphones. Some are chilling to contemplate, others more mundane, like how they interact with TV ads. In April, Burger King aired a commercial that was designed to exploit viewers’ Google Home units. In the ad, an on-screen actor said "OK, Google" to wake the devices, then asked them to recite the ingredients of a Whopper.

Technically, it worked. The ad prompted Google voice helpers across the country to wake up and read the burger’s Wikipedia entry. The problem? Pranksters immediately edited the article, so Google Home listed rat meat and cyanide as Whopper ingredients. Hours after the spot debuted, Google updated its system to stop Home from responding to the ad.

According to Google, the company is already developing audio tags that will tell Home devices to tune out TV ads. But until they work well, smart homes may have irritating hassles ahead. Welcome to a brave new world of viral marketing: stunts performed by light bulbs and coffee makers, with ad agencies and restaurant chains pulling the strings.  

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