An Open Source Hoax
In May 2014 we impersonated Google employees and entered the stage of Europe's biggest tech conference to present some new and creepy Google inventions.
In May 2014, we created two personas: “Google employees”, Gloria Spindle and Paul von Ribbeck and sent them to Republica, Europe’s largest tech and innovation conference with over 5000 participants. Not long after Google’s actual acquisition of Nest Labs and growing public curiosity about what Google would do with it, the timing was perfect for Gloria and Paul to present Google Nest, a suite of products designed to make users feel safe and connected on the internet again, after all those disturbing revelations about surveillance.
The products — Google Trust (insurance against surveillance and data theft), Google Bee (personal drones), Google Hug (an app to monitor users emotional needs and match them with others who have the same) and Google Bye (an online profile for the afterlife), were supposedly created by Google after an assessment of user needs based on an analysis of their emails and search terms.
German NGOs, Digitalcourage and Digitale Gesellschaft and three members of political parties, Jan Philipp Albrecht from The Green Party, Julia Reda from the Pirate Party and Halina Wawzyniak from Die Linke, helped engineer the hoax by reacting against Google Nest in the media just before Gloria and Paul went on stage. Google Germany’s nicely prepared Twitter strategy to play along and make a big joke out of it all had to quickly be reworked in a moment of panic when they realised, according to PR representative Ralf Bremer, “it was serious”. Much to the Twittersphere’s amusement, they came out and officially declared Google Nest a satire. Meanwhile Jan Josef Liefers, the well-known actor from German crime series, Tatort, appeared in the audience of Gloria and Paul’s presentation and volunteered to test out Google Hug. After having his emotional status revealed and matched with one Lawrence Pagemann in the audience, he declared to the packed room “I feel used.”
At the end of the presentation, the livestream was switched off and the audience was invited to join in the joke and spread the hoax in their own way. And they did! The #googlenest hashtag trended in Germany for 5 hours and the website received over 35 000 visits in its first day, coverage in all German media outlets made its way into press in the US, India, Australia and South Africa. And of course Google Trademark Team sent a pleasant but “don’t mess with us” letter to stamp “parody” on our beautiful Google Nest website and hand over the domain name. After consultation with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and a firm letter written to Google on our behalf, we killed the site.