Google sorry after Google Home spews Obama conspiracy theory

Fake news has been tossed around a lot lately — including by Google Home.

Google Home, the smart speaker that talks to its users, recently spit out conspiracy theories about President Obama, as evidenced in a BBC video.

Google Home works like Amazon’s Echo. You talk to the machine and tell it to do things for you, such as play music. Or you ask it a question, and it reads aloud what it finds on Google.

Over the weekend, it responded to “is Obama planning a coup” in the following way:

“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!”

OK.

“We apologize for any offense this may have caused,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed response to SiliconBeat Monday. “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.”

In other words, Google is still struggling with its fake-news problem. This news about Google Home is just the latest cringe-worthy article about it. For example, a few months ago, academics expressed alarm about a report that Google’s search autocomplete feature was being gamed by the right wing. Also, Google has promised to try to fight fake news by starving its purveyors of ad revenue, but in December a media watchdog reported that the company hasn’t been doing a good job of it.

And the fake news about Obama wasn’t the only thing Google search was spewing out. Other documented examples include Google search snippets, drawn from so-called news sites, that claimed President Warren Harding was a member of the KKK, or that Obama was king of the United States.

The Google spokeswoman said the company removed the “featured snippet” that Google Home recited after it was alerted about it. “We feature a ‘feedback’ link directly under Featured Snippets so users can flag content for us to review and potentially remove,” she said.

Google isn’t alone in battling the scourge of fake news, of course. The issue got a lot of attention after the election of Donald Trump, and Facebook got its share of the criticism. Now, Facebook is beginning to mark some news as “disputed.”

 

Photo: Google Home, left, and Amazon Echo. Google Home was recorded as having regurgitated false information about former President Barack Obama. (Troy Wolverton/Bay Area News Group)

 

 

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