On Thursday, Twitter user Bryson Meunier got an unexpected surprise when he used his Google Home. After asking the smart assistant "Okay Google, what's my day like?" Google Home told him the current weather and his commute time, before launching into an advertisement for the latest Disney film.
"By the way, Disney's live action Beauty and The Beast opens today," the Home 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."
Meunier posted a video of the interaction on Twitter, showcasing the conversation. After Meunier declined to ask about Belle, the Home presented him with the news.
Additionally, as reported by the Verge, some Reddit users also noticed the ad, and some had even heard the ad through the Google Assistant on their mobile device. While the incident may seem harmless, it opens up a bigger conversation around the future of digital assistants and smart home products.
Currently, Amazon's Echo and Google Home dominate the AI assistant-driven smart speaker market. However, aside from users initially purchasing the hardware, there haven't been clear opportunities for monetization yet. But advertising could change that.
A statement provided by a Google spokesperson said: "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."
And while Meunier noted on Twitter that he does have young children, the Beauty and the Beast reference sounds exactly like an advertisement. The Beauty and the Beast reference has since been removed from the Home's My Day feature where Meunier noticed it.
Despite the potential for advertising to turn off some users, it's a fairly obvious potential revenue stream for the digital assistant market. If ads continue to be utilized in products like Google Home, users could even see a freemium model come about where a monthly subscription for premium service eliminates the ads, much like Spotify.
If this does come to pass, it could mean ads coming into more homes and even into business boardrooms where some companies have begun to use the Amazon Echo and Google Home. If ads prove fruitful for these vendors, they could also be harder to avoid when traveling as hotels like the Wynn in Las Vegas have rolled out thousands of Amazon Echo devices in their rooms.
It's important to note that, as it stands, this was only a handful of instances and doesn't necessarily mean that Google and Amazon are all-in on advertising for these products. However, the situation does raise the stakes on what will be considered acceptable for AI assistant moving forward.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- One Google Home user received an advertisement for Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
- Advertising could be a way for businesses to make money, leading to a freemium model for users who could pay to not have ads.
- The incident means that businesses could eventually hear ads in the boardroom where they may be using these digital assistants.
- Google Home: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Amazon Echo review: Alexa is the first digital assistant that is actually helpful (ZDNet)
- CES 2017: Cracking open Google Home live on the CNET stage (TechRepublic)
- Amazon Echo: 10 Alexa productivity skills to try (ZDNet)
- IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.