Not too long ago, I was able to treat the Google Assistant with a level of respect due to the entity that fits comfortably between “faceless voice” and “future robot overlord.” Something happened over the holidays though. With the launch of Pretty Please, being nice to the Google Assistant suddenly became an annoyance.
At I/O 2018, Google announced Pretty Please as a way to combat the possibility that children growing up with voice assistants like Alexa and the Google Assistant would learn bad manners. This is certainly a worthy cause, teaching kids not to simply speak commands out in the real world and expect results.
In the keynote, Scott Huffman, VP of Engineering for the Google Assistant, made it fairly clear that Pretty Please was (at the time) intended for families with children, and that it would work as a complement to Family Link.
Most importantly, he noted that Pretty Please would be available “as an option for families.” Fast forward to today, and Pretty Please is now on by default when users say “please” or “thank you”, with no apparent way to disable it. By contrast, Continued Conversation, a feature announced shortly before Pretty Please in the keynote, has its own section in the Google Home app.
My most common use for the Google Home is as a timer for cooking and other chores. When the timer goes off, I used to be able to say “Hey Google, thank you.” This was a quick, easy (and polite) way to silence the alarm without the Assistant offering a reply.
With the advent of Pretty Please, the once-silent response from the Google Assistant is replaced with the annoying combination of a chime and an oddly phrased thanks.
On my part, this was met with an almost immediate behavior change. Now instead of saying “thank you,” I simply say “stop.” Instead of feeling encouraged to speak nicely to my Google Assistant, at least in my case, I learned to become curt.
While I may be the only one at 9to5 to feel this way, (Stephen and Abner actually talked about being nicer to the Google Assistant in a recent episode of Alphabet Scoop) I’m not alone. Users have taken to Reddit and Twitter looking for a way to disable Pretty Please for the Google Assistant.
Hey Andrew, thanks for reaching out. Disabling the Pretty Please feature isn't available, we're looking for ways to improve and we'll take it as a feedback. We'll keep this in mind — keep an eye on our social media channels for updates.
— Made by Google (@madebygoogle) December 5, 2018
The consensus being that the uncalled-for celebration of good manners feels condescending to some users. Instead of creating positive reinforcement of good manners, for these users, it’s causing negative reinforcement of direct commands to avoid annoyance.
Surely, no one wants to debate the potential positive impact that the feature can have on children, but I feel like that should be a choice given to families, not one pushed upon every Google Home. What this all really boils down to is:
Hey Google, can Pretty Please have an off switch, please?