In an attempt to sell more Whoppers, fast food giant Burger King accessed the ‘Google Now’ feature on Android-powered devices without users’ permission.
A Sneaky Marketing Trick by Burger King
In a 15-second ad aired on April 12 during late night hits Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, Burger King filmed an actor dressed as an employee saying, “Ok Google, what is the Whopper burger?” And apparently, the gimmick worked.
The New York Times posted a video testing the ad on a Google Home device the same day the ad aired. When the actor said, “Ok Google, what is the Whopper burger?” the device activated Google Now, which recited the Wikipedia entry for the Whopper.
Shortly after the ad made the rounds on the Internet, outraged Netizans began submitting changes to the burger’s Wikipedia entry.
According security blog Naked Security, the submitted changes included quips such as: “often stinky combination of dead and live bacteria,” “mucus,” and “fatally poisonous substance that a person ingests deliberately to quickly commit suicide.”
Wikipedia quickly put an end to the revenge-driven edits and restricted access on the Whopper page to authorized administrators.
A Battle for the Living Room
Around three hours after the Burger King ad aired, The Washington Post reported, Google took action by blocking the ad from activating its Google Now tool. However, Burger King then released a modified version of the ad, which appeared to succeed in activating phones once more.
Some upset viewers vented their frustration with Burger King’s rather invasive marketing tactic, with some even saying the company needed to be punished in some way.
Privacy activist Lauren Weinstein echoed these sentiments on her personal blog, calling for criminal prosecution against the ad’s creators:
“Someone — or more likely a bunch of someones — at Burger King and their advertising agency need to be arrested, tried, and spend some time in shackles and prison cells. They’ve likely been violating state and federal cybercrime laws with their obnoxious ad campaign.”
“The federal CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) broadly prohibits anyone from accessing a computer without authorization,” Weinstein wrote.
“I know that I didn’t give Burger King to access and use my Google Home or my associated Google account.”
Bitsonline tested the alternative ad on a Google Pixel with Google Assistant. On the first test, the phone recognized the “Ok Google” command. However, the device’s Smart Voice security feature would not let the unfamiliar voice unlock the phone.
On successive tests, the ad did not trigger our Google Pixel at all.
Do you think Burger King’s ad was ethical or not? Let us know your thoughts down below.
Image via Burger King