Facebook may be attempting to fight fake news with its recently introduced tagging feature, but it seems Google may want to bring in extra controls over false stories, too. According to Google Home, the company’s Amazon Echo-like smart speaker, Barack Obama is planning a coup d’etat in the US and all Republicans are Nazis.
SearchEngineLand editor Danny Sullivan noted that when you typed a question into Google Search about whether the former president was planning a coup, the top answer was: “According to details exposed in Western Centre 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!”
Google’s virtual assistant gave the same response, and you don’t even get the option to hear other answers. BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones posted a video to Twitter showing Google Home warning of Obama’s secret intentions.
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
Google’s fake replies weren’t restricted to right-wing conspiracy theories; Sullivan asked Google Home if Republicans were fascists, to which he was told “Yes, Republicans equal Nazis.”
Google Home:— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) March 5, 2017
"Yes, republicans = nazis" pic.twitter.com/7HVQjyjbEq
The problem comes from Google’s “featured Snippets,” which are algorithmically generated quick answers sourced from web pages that rank highly in search results – so they aren’t curated, obviously. It’s been known to surface bizarre answers to questions such as “how many presidents were in the KKK?” (at least five, according to Google), “what happened to the dinosaurs?” (“they are used more than anything else to indoctrinate children and adults in the idea of millions of years of earth history,”), and “are women evil?” (it seemed to suggest so).
Google says it removes these sort of answers when alerted to them. A company spokesperson gave the following statement:
Featured Snippets in Search provide an automatic and algorithmic match to a given search query, and the content comes from third-party sites. Unfortunately, there are instances when we feature a site with inappropriate or misleading content. When we are alerted to a Featured Snippet that violates our policies, we work quickly to remove them, which we have done in this instance. We apologize for any offense this may have caused.