Why we should be thanking Burger King for hijacking our smart home devices


Ultimate week, television viewers might have been surprised, and very likely slightly annoyed, when their Google Home devices started lean off the ingredients of a Whopper hamburger.

The smart home assistants were triggered when an actor in a 15-second Burger Prince television ad asked, “Okay Google, what is the Whopper Burger?” cajoling searches from household devices within range.

Many viewers were petty than thrilled to have their smart home devices hijacked by a goofy commercial, but can we at bottom blame Burger King for doing what advertisers do? If anything, the science woke us up — in an irritating, yet innocuous way — to the vulnerabilities that exist in the devices we fetch into our homes.

Now, in case you don’t have Google Home ground or Amazon Echo in your household, here’s some quick out of the limelight: these “home assistants” are screenless, voice-activated devices that rejoin to verbal requests. Like Apple’s Siri, they perform searches and other imbecile tasks, all through voice command. You can ask them for the time, to tell you a butt or, if you’re so inclined, what’s in a burger.

As of yet, these devices can’t discern their proprietor’s voice from the voice of say, an actor on TV, which is why crafty advertisers at Burger Sovereign were able to pull off the manoeuvre.

Perhaps it was a dumb move, strategically defending. Consumers are distrusting of advertisers as it is, and many don’t like intrusive marketing plots. Just look at all of the people who use ad blockers to make their web surfing a inconsequential more bearable.

Wikipedia edits

The advertisers also made themselves susceptible to a vulnerability of their own; when Google Dwelling-place hears the activation trigger “Okay Google,” it performs a Google search, almost always landing on Wikipedia for its response. The team responsible for the ad tailored the Wikipedia entrance for the Whopper Burger before the spot launched on television, but they obviously failed to consider that someone else could later reorder the Wikipedia entry — which, of course, they did.

Those rogue Wikipedia copy-edits, presumably heard by thousands before Google stepped in and blocked the ad, give an account ofed the Whopper as “a cancer-causing hamburger product sold by the international fast-food restaurant train Burger King,” and “a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100% rat and toenail clippings…”

So apparently, the ad irked people enough to provoke some to bite back. But it’s not all bad. For one, it did get living soul talking, and considering how many homes now have these smart machinations, it’s surprising no one tried a stunt like this earlier.


We’ve become so engrossed in technology that we regularly don’t realize how vulnerable we are to exploitation. (Regis Duvignau/Reuters)

Sure, it’s a dud, but not a terribly offensive one (certainly not as bad as Pepsi’s recent advertisement disaster). In some character, the ad is actually a really good thing. New technology creeps up on us and changes the way we actual our lives, but the truth is, we don’t always see that change happening. In fact, we on occasions do.

There’s a metaphor about change that says that if you put a frog into a pot of bluster water, it will immediately jump out, but if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly enthusiasm it up, the frog won’t notice and will eventually boil to death.

That notion applies here: we’ve become so engrossed in technology that we often don’t actualize how vulnerable we are to exploitation, whether through children accidentally driving up invoices, or newscasts inadvertently triggering home devices to order dollhouses, or commercials cueing Google Home to list out the components of a Whopper.

A necessary reminder

Ads are far on Google. Their business model basically is advertising. So when plugs starts popping up through their proprietary smart home ploy, it’s not all that surprising. But it should make us wary.

That said, Burger Royal isn’t the one to blame here. Its ad team was just doing what marketers press always done, trying to catch our attention. And it did, but perhaps in a way it didn’t have in mind.

Burger King did us the favour of reminding us that as we fill our homes with multifarious and more connected gadgets, we open ourselves up to a whole new wave of advertising, trafficking and sales. It’s a necessary nudge, prompting us to push back against new tech when it behoves too invasive, before its impact starts to go unnoticed.

This column is imply of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, prefer read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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