Amazon and Google are in a not-so-fun fight. Google has apparently decided to stop allowing the Amazon Echo Show to access YouTube. If you ask the smart speaker to show you a YouTube video, it fails and Alexa just say this: “Currently, Google is not supporting Youtube on Echo Show.”
That seems like a pretty strong thing for a computer to say, so I asked Amazon about it, and the company issued this (excuse the pun) fire statement:
Google made a change today at around 3 pm. YouTube used to be available to our shared customers on Echo Show. As of this afternoon, Google has chosen to no longer make YouTube available on Echo Show, without explanation and without notification to customers. There is no technical reason for that decision, which is disappointing and hurts both of our customers.
The Echo Show, if you’re not familiar, is the Alexa-enabled smart speaker that has a screen on it so you can do stuff like... watch video. And YouTube is the internet’s largest source of said video. One of the core use cases of the Echo Show for some people might be watching cooking lessons or music videos — on YouTube.
Amazon’s strident statement makes clear that it doesn’t believe this is a technical mistake, but a conscious choice by Google. Google, however, very much begs to differ on the reason it blocked YouTube on the Echo Show:
We’ve been in negotiations with Amazon for a long time, working towards an agreement that provides great experiences for customers on both platforms. Amazon’s implementation of YouTube on the Echo Show violates our terms of service, creating a broken user experience. We hope to be able to reach an agreement and resolve these issues soon.
Reading between the lines, I’d guess Google very much wants features that it thinks are essential for YouTube’s future growth included, stuff like subscriptions, next video recommendations, autoplay, and so on. But who knows! Only the negotiators at the table.
Google has a history of being particular about how YouTube gets displayed on apps made by other companies, citing the terms of service on its API. Way back in 2013, it got in a tiff with Microsoft over the YouTube app on Windows Phone, blocking the app and leading Microsoft to just revert to a web player for YouTube.
If you wanted to spin a darker story, there’s certainly plenty of fodder for you to do that. Google, as you’re no doubt aware, has its own smart speaker that communicates via the Google Assistant. Google Home doesn’t have a screen, but you can ask it for YouTube videos by streaming it to a Chromecast. Google Home also allows you to listen to music sourced from YouTube.
This isn’t a fun fight
This sort of push and pull between companies that compete on multiple fronts is nothing new. But seeing an intelligent assistant like Alexa lose the ability to display video from YouTube feels a little ominous. Way back in January 2016, I wrote about how intelligent assistants usually only give one answer to questions and who controls that answer can be just as much the result of deals as it is the result of algorithms figuring out the right answer.
If nothing else, it’s clear that Google and Amazon are not doing a very good job working out that deal. (And hey look, the Google Chromecast still isn’t officially available to buy on Amazon.)
If you were thinking that the time when you could sort of trust a search engine to not give you results that are limited by inter-company agreements was a golden age that’s ending, I wouldn’t say you were wrong.
Or maybe not! Now that they’ve issued dueling public statements about this kerfuffle, maybe the two companies will work it out, and everything will end up being fine. Totally fine... until the next time the information you want to access is comes via an API with Terms of Service instead of a free and open link on the web.
(Update: And now, a brief definition of the web.)