Ads that hijack smart speakers and digital assistants aren’t new — they’ve been around for a year or so. But now they have a new target: Apple HomePod.
According to anecdotal user reports on Reddit, there’s an NBA commercial airing on TNT that has been activating Siri on their HomePod devices. The ad uses the phrase “Don’t wanna miss out? Hey Siri, show me the NBA schedule,” several Redditors wrote.
The ad sounds tailor-made to activate HomePod devices, but theoretically, it could trigger Siri on any device with the always-on Hey Siri feature.
AppleInsider corroborated the HomePod trigger in their own testing, but noted that the ad didn’t appear to activate Siri on iPhone or iPad devices at a “normal” distance from a TV. Presumably, that’s because of the lack of voice recognition on HomePod and the speaker’s advanced array of sensitive microphones.
As Apple noted in a recent Machine Learning Journal post, the Hey Siri feature on iOS is trained to respond to a user’s unique voice during setup. There doesn’t appear to be any indication that this customization is carried over to those user’s HomePod devices, however. Most users note that HomePod can be activated by anyone saying Hey Siri.
Last year, a Burger King commercial hijacked Android phones and Google Home smart speakers — the short ad spot used the phrase “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” At the time, some users were impressed by the creativity of it, but many were just irritated.
In the wake of that ad, there’s been a wave of similar commercials that target both Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The latter company does use a mechanism to prevent inadvertent Alexa activation in its own ads, however. But the NBA ad is seemingly the first to specifically target Apple’s smart speaker.
While these ads are intentional, smart speakers are also routinely triggered by accident. Assistant activation phrases are pretty ubiquitous now, and frequently show up in online and TV content.
Unfortunately, smart speaker-hijacking ads and accidental activation that will likely continue to be an issue until companies implement some type of measure to mitigate them. In the meantime, it seems that HomePod users aren’t safe from the undoubtedly annoying ads.