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Burger King Runs Ad Triggering Google Home Devices; Google Shuts It Down (theverge.com) 191

Burger King unveiled a new advertisement earlier today designed to trigger users' Google Home devices. The ad specifically used the Google Home trigger phrase "Okay, Google" to ask "What is the Whopper burger?," thus triggering the Google Assistant to read off the top result from Wikipedia. But less than three hours after Burger King launched the ad, Google disabled the functionality. The Verge reports: As of 2:45PM ET, Google Home will no longer respond when prompted by the specific Burger King commercial that asks "What is the Whopper burger?" It does, however, still respond with the top result from Wikipedia when someone else (i.e., a real user) other than the advertisement asks the same question. Google has likely registered the sound clip from the ad to disable unwanted Home triggers, as it does with its own Google Home commercials.
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Burger King Runs Ad Triggering Google Home Devices; Google Shuts It Down

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:08PM (#54226037)

    I wanted to hear more about this "Whopper" burger! What are you trying to hide Google???

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > What are you trying to hide Google???

      Burger King should make a follow up commercial that poses that very question. Make into a conspiracy. The public seems fond of those nowdays.

  • 1984 CFAA violation? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:12PM (#54226051)

    Isn't this basically a blatant violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse act? What if a small timer had done this and not a mega corporation?

    • by LesFerg ( 452838 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @11:34PM (#54226559) Homepage

      Isn't this basically a blatant violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse act? What if a small timer had done this and not a mega corporation?

      Essentially it is an act of accessing a computer system belonging to somebody else, without their permission. I imagine the legal description of hacking could be stretched around this well enough to take it to court in a country like the US where litigation rules.

      • Isn't this basically a blatant violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse act? What if a small timer had done this and not a mega corporation?

        Essentially it is an act of accessing a computer system belonging to somebody else, without their permission. I imagine the legal description of hacking could be stretched around this well enough to take it to court in a country like the US where litigation rules.

        Essentially this is utter stupidity. People want to secure their always-listening devices buried deep in their homes that control every damn thing? Then petition the manufacturer to be able to customize the trigger (pass)word to something other than what the rest of the planet already knows.

        And for the latter reason, no, I don't believe even within the idiocy of US litigation could you convince someone that muttering the words "OK Google" is considered hacking. If so, then I fully expect Burger King to

        • I believe this would fall under the category of, "what did you THINK was going to happen?"

          It's not even about whether it is legal or not. It's just so easy to happen that it is almost comical to talk about legalities.
          • I believe this would fall under the category of, "what did you THINK was going to happen?" It's not even about whether it is legal or not. It's just so easy to happen that it is almost comical to talk about legalities.

            Fortunately, a lack of legal action against Burger King for what would be defined as a distributed/targeted/terrorist attack against thousands of innocent citizens tends to help define precedent.

      • Legal consequences will discourage deliberate abuse. But I suspect the technical solution here is to add a direct feed of known non-human audio sources (TV, radio, stereo system) to devices like Google Home or Alexa. That way these devices can selectively ignore from your TV, radio, and stereo system, kinda like how voice chat programs eliminate echo by subtracting the audio they send to the speakers from what they receive from the microphone. It'll prevent blatant abuse of ads to activate these devices.
        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          But I suspect the technical solution here is to add a direct feed of known non-human audio sources (TV, radio, stereo system) to devices like Google Home or Alexa.

          Are you suggesting that we add a bunch of miscellaneous ports to the Home/Echo and wire in every audio source in the house? Or maybe you're picturing small wireless mics next to all those sources to isolate their audio and counter it? I see no obvious, practical way to implement this technical solution. How do you picture this "direct feed of known non-human audio sources" working?

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Thursday April 13, 2017 @12:57AM (#54226807) Journal
      You're probably right, but I would have responded by linking it to a Big Mac
      • by Chysn ( 898420 )

        That was probably their first instinct, too. Unfortunately, they'd then be intentionally providing misinformation to paying customers.

        A better approach for sabotage would have been to start reading off nutritional information.

  • Nice Play (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:14PM (#54226061) Homepage

    I'm glad google shut this down, but I have to admit I'm rather impressed with Burger King on this one. Nicely played.

    • Re:Nice Play (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:24PM (#54226103)

      Google should have played back by pushing something like this [sfgate.com] to the top of the result list, and having Assistant read out the first paragraph from there.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:33PM (#54226145)

        ...although leaving it as Wikipedia would probably have been more effective at warning advertisers off this tactic.

        However, prior to the ad's premiere, the article had been modified by a user allegedly tied to the company, so that Google's automatically-generated response to the query would be a detailed description of the Whopper burger that utilized promotional language. The edits were reverted for violating Wikipedia's policies discouraging "shameless self-promotion". Furthermore, the snippet became the target of vandalism, which caused Google Home to read off statements suggesting that the sandwich's ingredients included "rat meat", "toenail clippings", and a "medium-sized child".

      • Re:Nice Play (Score:5, Interesting)

        by darthsilun ( 3993753 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @10:00PM (#54226251)

        from the article: ... its high amount of fat, cholesterol and sodium makes it an unhealthy food...

        Well, not to defend Burger King (and a bit off topic), but if you're getting the appropriate amount of exercise your body won't metabolize the fat and cholesterol, and the original research that claimed salt is bad for you was flawed (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/its-time-to-end-the-war-on-salt/); posting this kind of counter attack could be considered – by some – as misguided. Then again, most people don't get sufficient exercise and the fat and cholesterol is bad for them.

        It wasn't uncommon in the early days of the web for people to shift the bandwidth load of their websites by linking to content on other people's web servers. When those other people figured out this was happening to them, they would replace the content with something else that the bandwidth "thief" didn't intend, e.g. smut, much to the bandwidth thief's embarrassment.

        A better counter attack, IMO, would have been to replace the content Burger King was expecting with something else, e.g. an audio clip of Meg Ryan's faux orgasm from "When Harry Met Sally" or a clip of HAL saying "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."

        • A better counter attack ... would have been to replace the content Burger King was expecting with ... an audio clip of Meg Ryan's faux orgasm from "When Harry Met Sally"

          But you do that right AFTER buying a bunch of BK stock. If a Whopper can do that (orgasm, even if fauxed) then who WOULDN'T want one?

          Then again, expect to be sued by MAKK (Mothers Against Knowledgeable Kids): Mommy, why is Alexa moaning? Did she eat too many Whoppers and now her stomach hurts? Or does the TV just like to watch?

        • A better counter attack, IMO, would have been to replace the content Burger King was expecting with something else, e.g. an audio clip of Meg Ryan's faux orgasm from "When Harry Met Sally"

          Note that that clip ended in a woman saying "I'm having what she is having". Don't think BK would object.

    • Re:Nice Play (Score:5, Insightful)

      by msauve ( 701917 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:28PM (#54226125)
      Rather than shut it down, Google should have simply changed the response to something on the order of "The Whopper is a big bunch of tasty calories, but doesn't provide good nutrition. If that's what you want, you should consider a burger from McDonald's, Wendy's, Sonic, or some other brand, which although no better nutritionally, isn't trying to play weird games with its advertising."
      • by cjjjer ( 530715 )
        A better reply would be "I'm sorry , I don't understand the question."
      • Rather than shut it down, Google should have simply changed the response to something on the order of

        ...legally actionable libel.

        Do you people think before you post these comments? Wait, I forgot, this is Slashdot. I must be new here.

        Absolutely the only thing Google can get away with legally is simply ignoring the trigger. Otherwise they'll be illegally abusing their market position.

        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          Is that you Sheldon? Your sarcasm detector isn't working well today.
          • Is that you Sheldon? Your sarcasm detector isn't working well today.

            Before you expect people to laugh, check to be sure that you are in fact funny.

        • Rather than shut it down, Google should have simply changed the response to something on the order of

          ...legally actionable libel.

          Do you people think before you post these comments? Wait, I forgot, this is Slashdot. I must be new here.

          Absolutely the only thing Google can get away with legally is simply ignoring the trigger. Otherwise they'll be illegally abusing their market position.

          So is it libel or is it abusing market position? A reasonable belief that a statement is true is usually good enough to shut down a libel case, and that seems likely here. Google is not in the fast food business, so it's dominant position in the computer/web-ad market is irrelevant. You can only abuse your market position in the market you operate in. Did you even think before you posted your comment?

    • The real message is that all these people can get into IoT.

    • "Nicely played" as in "committed a felony"?

      • by jwhyche ( 6192 )

        No felonies where committed. What was done was a pretty good hack if you think about it. Burger King managed to hack a device over a TV commercial. That was actually very clever.

        I'm glad google shut this down because there probably would have been copy cats. But again, no felonies where committed.

  • by Red_Chaos1 ( 95148 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:19PM (#54226083)

    The company that made the CueCat wanted to be able to do just this eventually. When I worked at Radio Shack in the early 00's we gave these stupid things away. Information coming down the pipeline said they eventually intended to make a device that connected to the PC and would respond to audio cues in advertisement on TV and open a browser to the product page. At the time it sounded retarded, like, "who the fuck would want such a thing?" Laugh's on me I guess, everyone wants an Echo or Home now.

    • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:26PM (#54226119)

      Laugh's on me I guess, everyone wants an Echo or Home now.

      "Everyone wants an Echo" isn't the same thing as "Everyone wants a device that can be manipulated by an advertisement in a movie, TV show, or web video".

      Disclaimer: I have no desire to purchase either an Echo or a Home - I just don't see any significant advantage to owning them, while I do see a lot of potential disadvantages.

      • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
        Yeah.... I'm not going to belittle people who want that shit... but I don't want that shit.
        • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:55PM (#54226227) Homepage

          You kind of should belittle people who want that shit it it's current state, in opposition to the marketing that tells them they are special if they buy that shit. Counter marketing is fair and reasonable in today's market place. Purposeful hacking by Burger King, well, technically it is a computer crime, although the bar for security is exceedingly low, they still did intentionally hack and abuse a computer network, that network being between the consumer and Google, this done in order to steal advertisement time worth millions of dollars. So really quite naughty and a criminal offence, technically.

          • You kind of should belittle people who want that shit it it's current state, in opposition to the marketing that tells them they are special if they buy that shit. Counter marketing is fair and reasonable in today's market place.

            I would go further: I would say that anyone who understands the severe harm to both privacy and free speech that these things cause almost has a moral obligation to educate potential victims about that harm, whenever possible.

          • by houghi ( 78078 )

            So really quite naughty and a criminal offence, technically.

            Although nice as a discussion point, it really doesn't matter as they are a big company. That makes it legal by default, unless another big company disagrees.

    • I remember grabbing one of those because it was a free hackable barcode scanner [cexx.org], but I never got around to actually doing anything with it. I'm pretty sure I still have it in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

      • by alzoron ( 210577 )

        They were pretty handy at the school I worked at. Getting new equipment was a red tape nightmare and we needed some more barcode scanners in the library. Hooray for CueCat.

      • I remember grabbing one of those because it was a free hackable barcode scanner, but I never got around to actually doing anything with it. I'm pretty sure I still have it in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.

        This is not about the cuecat barcode reader, but about the... I don't know, I forget what they called it, but it was just an audio cable which ran from your TV to your PC. And your PC would run some program which would listen to the audio out from your TV, and when it detected certain cadences it would load data from the audio stream and display an ad on your PC. I got one because it was a free long mono audio cable. Maybe with a pass through RCA on both ends. I may still have it, too, if I haven't carved i

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      I still think "why would anyone want something like that?" and don't understand the alleged success of the Eco / Home. I say alleged because I don't know anyone with one nor many people aware of them. But one thing for sure, next time I'm on the radio I'm going to yell "OK Google, order a barrel of lube and a dildo. Confirm."
  • by thegrassyknowl ( 762218 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:35PM (#54226151)

    ... "Malicious attackers in Burger King's advertising department use vulnerability in Google home to make it do stuff its owner didn't request".

    It's a bit rich to call it an ad and chuckle about.

    It's a lot scary that it's possible for a remote attacker to ask these devices en masse to do something with nothing more than a broadcast ad. For now it was reading a wikipedia page. What happens when scumvertisers and other malicious adversaries figure out a way to make it spend money without your consent? Or to report to them that you have heard the ad, or worse.

    • by The MAZZTer ( 911996 ) <megazzt@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:54PM (#54226219) Homepage
      Google can already do strict voice recognition, so I expect in the near future newer devices will have this enabled all the time by default to prevent things like this... also, so they can tie queries to specific people for data mining purposes, of course.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Google is already working on being able to distinguish people by their voices, so that they can support multiple users. One of the big limitations on current voice assistants is that they are single user, and it's not like you can just have one each right next to each other in a multi-user household, and there are privacy issues...

        To be frank they should have launched with such basic features in place.

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      It's a bit rich to call it an ad and chuckle about.

      No, that's exactly what it is.

      It's a lot scary that it's possible for a remote attacker to ask these devices en masse to do something with nothing more than a broadcast ad. For now it was reading a wikipedia page. What happens when scumvertisers and other malicious adversaries figure out a way to make it spend money without your consent? Or to report to them that you have heard the ad, or worse.

      It's not scary at all.

      That risk already exists, is absurdly obv

      • by thegrassyknowl ( 762218 ) on Thursday April 13, 2017 @12:37AM (#54226759)

        No, that's exactly what it is.

        No, it's intentional, premeditated unauthorized use of a computer of computing device. You can bet the farm that nobody authorized Burger King to assume control of their Google device and cause it to access the Internet. That it was in the form of a broadcast advertisement for a large corporation doesn't make it any less heinous to my mind.

        That risk already exists, is absurdly obvious, and has been made VERY clear on both tech forums and mainstream media. Anyone with ANY clue about phone security, and this includes people who lock their phone, has already disabled the voice feature so it isn't an issue for them.

        Anyone with any clue about security already avoids these things. Many with no clue about security are buying them up for the shiny factor. It is scary because the sort of people who don't have a clue are the sort of people buying them. Even people who care about security are buying and using voice activated devices.

        It's about as scary as the thought that if you leave your house front door open someone could just walk in.

        The average person understands that risk quite well. They might not assess its severity correctly, but they understand it. The average person does not understand the risk of these smart devices, and they remain wilfully ignorant when more knowledgable individuals try to educate them. Now we have a set of devices that can potentially be turned into a bot net en masse just by a radio or tv broadcast and the usual owner of such a device doesn't have a clue that it's even possible. Hell, they could take all the right precautions (firewall, apply updates, isolated segments, etc) and still be had. This (https://arstechnica.com/security/2017/03/smart-tv-hack-embeds-attack-code-into-broadcast-signal-no-access-required/) kind of attack springs to mind.

        It's scary because Burger King will probably get away with this, paving the way for other corporates to try on the same shit.

        It's scary because "OK Google" isn't necessarily the only trigger word. The attacker only needs to convince the trigger algorithm. If they discover a sound or sounds that are innocuous but trigger it then they can trigger devices without being obvious about it.

        It's scary because these devices have reached a critical mass large enough that a corporation took notice and exploited them.

        • by lgw ( 121541 )

          ou can bet the farm that nobody authorized Burger King to assume control of their Google device and cause it to access the Internet.

          Every single person who installed one of these listening devices authorized every random stranger with a voice to command it to do any damn thing they wanted because that's how the device works. You've made it clear anyone is welcome to control your home by installing it in the first place!

          • Every single person who installed one of these listening devices authorized every random stranger with a voice to command it to do any damn thing they wanted because that's how the device works. You've made it clear anyone is welcome to control your home by installing it in the first place

            Sounds like an autistic nerd who cannot distinguish between the ability to do something and the authorisation to do something.

        • It's scary because Burger King will probably get away with this, paving the way for other corporates to try on the same shit.

          Legally this is unlikely. The first case of this was a cute example of using something in the house to extend the advertisement. Now that the example is out the company has already put effort into preventing it happening again. This makes any future such advertisement a direct attack against efforts from another company to limit it and completely changes what was at first cute to an actual arms race that will eventually find its way into the courts.

        • It's scary because "OK Google" isn't necessarily the only trigger word. The attacker only needs to convince the trigger algorithm. If they discover a sound or sounds that are innocuous but trigger it then they can trigger devices without being obvious about it.

          I feel the solution is to fingerprint each voice that says OK Google. If the voice is not recognized, or if the device has been rebooted or even if a certain amount of time has passed, the device should ask the user to supply their passphrase before proceeding. All of these things should be stored and processed locally.

          That would effectively stop this form of attack, while giving me the opportunity to finally unlock a device with "Solent Green is People"

          • I feel the solution is to fingerprint each voice that says OK Google. If the voice is not recognized, or if the device has been rebooted or even if a certain amount of time has passed, the device should ask the user to supply their passphrase before proceeding. All of these things should be stored and processed locally.

            An attack like this can be defeated even without that, since the device phones home on every activation. If the same voice print is saying "Ok, Google" in multiple locations, you just disallow all but the first one. And if a new one comes in before the "user" could reasonably have gotten there (based on the locations of the devices) then you not only ignore it, but flag the voice as belonging to a malicious actor.

    • ... "Malicious attackers in Burger King's advertising department use vulnerability in Google home to make it do stuff its owner didn't request".

      It's a bit rich to call it an ad and chuckle about.

      It's a lot scary that it's possible for a remote attacker to ask these devices en masse to do something with nothing more than a broadcast ad. For now it was reading a wikipedia page. What happens when scumvertisers and other malicious adversaries figure out a way to make it spend money without your consent? Or to report to them that you have heard the ad, or worse.

      If you're stupid enough to allow a device to "spend money" secured with nothing more than a passphrase known to the entire planet, then you probably get what you deserve.

      We've always had a problem with hacking due to poor passwords that people chose. Naturally the obvious answer was to ensure everyone using these devices has the same fucking password. Brilliant stupidity at it's finest.

    • It's a lot scary that it's possible for a remote attacker to ask these devices en masse to do something with nothing more than a broadcast ad.

      Alexa, kill all humans.

  • 1807 (Score:4, Funny)

    by RyoShin ( 610051 ) <`tukaro' `at' `gmail.com'> on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @10:11PM (#54226299) Homepage Journal

    Relevant xkcd [xkcd.com]

  • 1. Record someone's voice without permission.
    2. Build custom TTS.
    3. Use your victim's voice to give orders to other IoT devices.
    4. ???
    5. Profit!

  • For me. Quick and on the money. I have tested it to see if it will open when asleep - Nope.

    This AD is a cheap trick, yet shows the risk of using Google home or any other device of it's nature.

  • Whopper is defined as "a gross or blatant lie."

    Why the google doodad would talk about hamburgers when asked to define a straightforward word in relatively common use is beyond my understanding. Had they provided a correct answer (and not a hamburger advertisement) this would not have been an issue.

    • Because the internet has been overtaken by brands.

      At one time, not long ago, if you did a search for "Fortune" Google would return links for the BSD fortune program.
      Now it returns links to Fortune magazine. SEO changed the internet to a model of whoever can push stuff hardest in your face, and Burger King won here.
  • by GeekWithAKnife ( 2717871 ) on Thursday April 13, 2017 @03:01AM (#54226999)

    Of why it's an awful idea to force all devices to listen out for the same fucking activation line. Some with "always on listening".


    Will google now wake-up and let us train the assistant to trigger at whatever we want? -later matching it only to our voice so it's less likely to activate even if someone knows what we say to activate it.

    I like the phrase; *white noise breathing* "Luke, this is your father." -let's use that.
    • I'd rather give the assistant a name and *mostly* have it answer only when my voice addresses it.

      It would probably be useful to have security settings that would allow others to run some searches. We're working towards a 'Jarvis' interface, right? If it just talks to me, that's actually rather limiting.

  • On the scale of humanity there's normal people, sociopaths, psychopaths, then a large gap, then finally marketeers.

  • Better Idea (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Demena ( 966987 ) on Thursday April 13, 2017 @05:34AM (#54227235)

    Google should have cheated on the sort algorithm and put in their own add in top place: "A slab of muscle tissue from an immature castrated bull between two lumps of overheated grains stripped of their nutritional components, accompanied by...."

    • Another funny option would have been if it "accidentally" played a McDonald's commercial when prompted with that question.
  • Burger King's ad campaigns have been the laughing stock of the advertising world forever. I was studying marketing back in the 80s, in college, and had a subscription to Advertising Age (the leading trade publication of the industry). At that time, Burger King's campaign revolved around the phrase, "Burger King. Sometimes you just gotta break the rules." It was considered so ridiculous that Advertising Age held a contest to see if anyone could come up with anything even more insane. Finalists in the to

  • IF THIS(GoogleAssistant("What is the Whopper burger"); say("A flaming piece of feces.")
            THEN(trigger some dummy action like sending a notification)

    Problem solved.

  • "Waaaah, I pay for television to deliver me advertising and then it communicated with the device I bought for spying and advertising and the device advertised to me!"

    The amount of sympathy I have for these brainiacs could be measured with electron scanning microscope.

    • So, as long as something is sleazy, it gets to break the rules? I'd think that we'd have to hold such enterprises to the rules more strictly.

      You're blaming the victim.

      • Are they really victims if they bought into it? It's like calling a person into BDSM a victim of violence. They're not victims, they love it. If they didn't, they wouldn't partake in it.

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