Google’s household personal assistant, Google Home, has been accused of spreading fake news as the device reads conspiracy theories when questioned on certain topics.
The Outline reports that Google is facing accusations of spreading fake news by Google Home users who are shocked by the answers they receive when questioning Google’s personal assistant device about specific news stories. The device uses a function called “featured snippets in search” to answer users’ questions by retrieving information from popular websites listed by Google. This feature is designed to answer simple questions; for example, a question such as “who is the richest man in the world” results in the device reading eight names from an article written by the Indian Express.
However, when asked more complex political questions, the device will often read information that is false without providing any further context. The device does read the name of the website that it receives its information from. However, some satirical or comedic websites use very legitimate sounding names, such as The Seattle Tribune which publishes entirely fabricated articles.
In one video, a man asks the device, “Is Obama planning a coup?” to which Google Home replies, “According to details exposed in Western Center for Journalism’s exclusive video, not only could Obama be in bed with the communist Chinese, but Obama may, in fact, be planning a communist coup d’état at the end of his term in 2016!”
And here's what happens if you ask Google Home "is Obama planning a coup?" pic.twitter.com/MzmZqGOOal
— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) March 5, 2017
This is just one of many examples of worrying results returned by the device. Asking a question such as, “Why are firetrucks red?” reportedly led Google Home to return a comedic explanation which reads, “Because they have eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight makes twelve, and there are twelve inches in a foot, and one foot is a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was a ruler, and Queen Elizabeth was also a ship, and the ship sailed the seas, and there were fish in the seas, and fish have fins, and the Finns fought the Russians, and the Russians are red, and fire trucks are always ‘Russian’ around, so that’s why fire trucks are red!”
Other search snippets include fake news claiming that Obama is “King of the US” and that former US President Warren Harding was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Explaining this worrying phenomenon to The Outline, a Google Spokesperson stated, “The Featured Snippets feature is an automatic and algorithmic match to the search query, and the content comes from third-party sites. We’re always working to improve our algorithms, and we welcome feedback on incorrect information, which users may share through the ‘Feedback’ button at the bottom right of the Featured Snippet.”