Reading something is very different from hearing it spoken by a creepy robot.
I’ve been thinking about something Phil showed me a while back. If you have a Google Home, ask it “What do sea otters do to baby seals?” and listen to the reply — but not with kids in the room.
The family room means family friendly and not all families are the same.
You get a long drawn out answer about how they drown them by trying to mate with them. Using words that can’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) be applied to animals that aren’t human. A discussion of rape that is simply not fit for every living room.
I know why it says what it says — because it’s working as intended. If you enter the same search at Google on the web or from your phone, you’ll find that the featured snippet at the top of the page is an excerpt from an article at IFLScience titled Animals can be Jerks which reads exactly as described by the title. It’s an interesting article, and probably something a teacher of appropriately aged children would appreciate even with the bit of anthropomorphism they include. The key is the appropriate age part.
Now imagine it coming from a speaker in the middle of your living room with a 4-year old child listening.
That’s not something every parent would approve of, and probably enough for some families to pull the cord, put it back in the box and return it or let it collect dust in the closet. I can’t blame those parents — descriptions of violent behavior is something a parent should be able to protect their child from in the way they think is appropriate. I’m not sure how I would have reacted if my kids were still very young, but I know I wouldn’t think it was very cool for Google to just do that out loud with no warning since they probably know the ages of my kids based on my email or web history.
While you have to be age appropriate to sign into Google Home and use it, everyone within earshot can hear it. It’s the responsibility of the owner to use Google Home properly in all situations, but come on — were you really expecting what you heard when you asked that question? I wasn’t. I’m sure even worse featured snippets are out there if someone really wanted to look.
There has to be a new middle ground between private and public for a product like Google Home.
The proper way to address this according to Google is to report the featured snippet as inappropriate. The problem is that it’s not inappropriate on a website that doesn’t read it aloud. I don’t think the search is made better by removing an interesting result featured at the top as long as a creepy female robotic voice isn’t reading it out loud to the kids. And Google Home is designed to be out in the open in front of everyone doing its thing. It’s no longer private once it comes out of the speaker.
I don’t know what needs to be done. That’s OK, there are people who are paid to know what to do. I just think that Google needs to do something to give everyone a way to make sure that the things being spoken by Google Home are appropriate for everyone who can hear it. Add it to the rest of the settings as an option and people who don’t care won’t even know it’s there. The only solution I can come up with right now is to consider Google Home as not family friendly in all situations, which isn’t very good for something designed for the living room.