By now you’ve probably heard about the Burger King TV commercial, in which a young employee says, “Ok, Google, what is the Whopper burger?” His sentence triggered Google-enabled devices to pull up the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper sandwich, which the Burger King marketing director had conveniently just edited to reflect more commercialized text. Where the original Wikipedia text read “The Whopper sandwich is the signature hamburger product sold by the international fast-food restaurant chain Burger King and its Australian franchise Hungry Jack’s,” the new marketing-friendly fluff read thusly:
The Whopper is a burger, consisting of a flame-grilled patty made with 100 percent beef with no preservatives or fillers, topped with sliced tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles, ketchup, and mayonnaise, served on a sesame-seed bun.
While the idea that a commercial could hijack someone’s device in the privacy of their own home was creepy to begin with, the idea that Burger King also turned Wikipedia into an unwitting platform for its commercials was too much for the public. Users flocked to Wikipedia to do a little editing of their own, with uproarious results.
Oh, really? said other Wikipedians, who went on to edit the ingredient list to include, variously, an “often stinky combination of dead and live bacteria,” “mucus,” a “fatally poisonous substance that a person ingests deliberately to quickly commit suicide” and “a juicy 100 percent rat meat and toenail clipping hamburger product.”
It got so bad that Wikipedia finally locked the entry for Burger King. What’s more, one privacy activist claims that the fast food chain broke the law, writing that “There’s no doubt that Google Home and its associated Google-based systems are computers, and I know that I didn’t give Burger King permission to access and use my Google Home or my associated Google account.”
Google took action to block the commercial from being able to trigger devices with the “Ok Google” phrase, but the case raises some valid concerns. Should companies be able to force you to view an advertisement, and should they be able to hijack your personal device to do so? Naked Security warns that Internet of Things (IoT) devices cannot recognize your voice, and therefore anyone can trigger any of your voice-activated devices. Between that knowledge, and the recent Vault 7 disclosures about how some smart devices are being used as listening devices in your home, it makes one wonder if this internet-enabled society is really a good thing.