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Circuit Breaker

Google Home is playing audio ads for Beauty and the Beast

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A ‘timely’ experiment sounded very close to a movie advertisement

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Today some Google Home owners reported hearing something extra when they asked for a summary of the day ahead from the smart speaker: an advertisement for the opening of Beauty and the Beast. Several users on Reddit have noticed the audio ad and Bryson Meunier posted a clip to Twitter. Some Android users also reported hearing the ad through Google Assistant on mobile.

The ad was delivered using the regular Google Assistant voice, so it blended in seamlessly with the other My Day information (weather, calendar appointments, etc.) — but some people still weren’t happy about it. “‘My Day’ configurations are weather, commute, calendar, reminders, and news, and I definitely haven't searched for the film either,” one Redditor wrote.

“By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and The Beast opens today,” the Assistant says, after covering the usual time, weather, and commute routine. “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 didn’t respond, so Home simply said “Have a good one” and moved on to the day’s news headlines from NPR. Google Home doesn’t yet work with Fandango, so it’s not like users could even take advantage of the ad and quickly reserve tickets at a local theater. The company has since stopped serving the Beauty and the Beast content to users.

When contacted by The Verge for more information, Google denied that the audio snippet was actually an ad, initially providing this rather strange statement: “This isn't an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.” That appeared to describe... an advertisement. Using Beauty and the Beast references. Later on Thursday, Google sent a follow-up statement with a more thorough explanation:

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.

So Google’s statement suggests that this isn’t the beginning of paid placement in Home’s daily briefings that some users were concerned about. But as the company quickly learned, spouting off audio even resembling ads can quickly turn off customers. Plus, it extends what’s supposed to be a brief preview of your day.

Update March 16th 2017 6:00PM: The story has been updated with a second statement provided by Google.