And, suddenly, weird gets even weirder. After the months-long discussion around fake news and how Facebook and Google are fighting to control it in the U.S. and around Europe, Google Home now appears to be gossip-mongering, according to a report by Quartz.
Apparently, Google Home appears to be picking up fake news from Google Search and feeding that to its users. We know that Google Home piggybacks on Google’s search capability, so it’s possible that it is picking out news without realizing whether it’s from a verified source or a hoax.
That leads us to a very important fact about Google itself. The search engine crawls billions of pages every day, not knowing what’s true and what’s not. Google Home’s response would be no different from what Google Search will throw out for a particular search query.
For example, Marketing Land and Search Land founder Danny Sullivan asked his Google Home whether Republicans were fascist, and Google Home reportedly replied: “Yes, republicans = nazis.”
When asked by BBC News’ tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones whether former U.S. president Barack Obama was planning a coup, Google Home confirmed that “Obama is in bed with the Communist Chinese and may, in fact, be planning a Communist coup d’état at the end of his term.”
That’s obviously false information on both counts, but how does Google Home actually get these answers?
The clue to this lies in the way the questions are asked, and the information that Google Search is able to find within its indexed database of webpages. If only spurious or malicious sources have written about that particular topic, that’s what Google will show – and that’s what Google Home is parroting as well.
The Internet can be a very useful tool, but it’s not an infallible source of information. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize that. They assume that just because something has been published online, that the information is credible.
Media houses and news websites take great pains to ensure that their information is as accurate as possible, even when talking about leaks and rumors. That credibility is destroyed when other sites claiming to be genuine spread false news, hoaxes and generally inaccurate information.
Does that mean the Internet should be curated? Not at all. In fact, that’s what net neutrality is about, in spirit. No single entity or group should be allowed to control what people can and cannot access on the Internet. However, that leaves a big gap for malicious websites to come in and spread fake news reports.
The incidents with Google Home merely highlight a bigger problem we have, not only with the authenticity of information found on the Internet, but the massive amount of trust that users place on it.
Both Google and Facebook are trying to address the issue by introducing better content flagging tools, better third-party checks and other automated technologies. But this isn’t something that can be stamped out in a few weeks or months.
We can only hope that websites that promote or carry fake news and other digital garbage will be caught and permanently banned so they won’t be able to prey on unsuspecting Internet users ever again – at least, not under the same banner.
It’s a long, drawn out battle between tech giants and fake news peddlers, but as long as there are robbers, the cops will need to be on their toes at all times.
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