This story was originally published and last updated .
Google has taken down the Assistant-integrated AutoVoice Action again, for the second time in a year. This time, the company claims the action "promotes content that advocates hate or violence or promotes discrimination," apparently because someone in Germany stringed together a clearly custom command that made the Assistant spout off some hate speech.
For those unfamiliar, AutoVoice lets you use the Assistant to trigger additional commands from external services like Tasker and IFTTT. Like Tasker, it's a pretty powerful tool in its own right, opening plenty of options when it comes to home automation.
AutoVoice (and Tasker) developer João Dias was notified of his "violation" four days ago — unfortunately, immediately before a vacation that will see him incommunicado for the next month. The specific violation claims that a user set up a custom command via AutoVoice that had the Assistant say derogatory terms in response to a relatively innocuous command. The statement targeted individuals with Down Syndrome, resulting in the hate speech violation.
Anyone familiar with the app, how it works, or Assistant Actions period would immediately understand (based on the context) that these were user-created, custom commands someone built that just happened to use AutoVoice, literally no different from making a custom routine with Google's first-party tools loaded with hate speech. But Google's famously and ridiculously inept developer support was unable to make that connection. Dias states that he's appealed to Google and resubmitted the action, and hopes that the issue will be resolved soon:
So apparently a German user decided to have some fun with the service to cuss at himself and Google says AutoVoice promotes hate speech 👍
I have appealed to Google to clear this mess up and have also resubmitted the action to see if they simply accept it again cause in their tests they won't get the hate speech. 😛
Hopefully this will resolve itself soon, but until then unfortunately AutoVoice is not available on the Google Assistant.
We've reached out to Dias for more details regarding Google's takedown, and after our initial publication, he informed us that a representative claims to have flagged his app to ensure it won't be taken down for this reason again, though Google has confusingly already rejected his re-submission, contrary to that promise.
We've also reached out to Google for more information — specifically why the action was removed when it's clearly not in violation of any of Google's policies, whether or not the company performs a manual review of these takedowns, and why it doesn't do more to raise the quality of its developer support — but a response wasn't immediately forthcoming.
In the meantime, there's a workaround from the last time this happened that might work for those that need to get their custom Assistant actions working again. Hopefully, Google can realize its (repeated) mistake, toss some actual human beings at the problem, and reinstate the Action soon.
Back in English
Developer João Dias has returned from his vacation and let us know that the English version of AutoVoice should be working, though folks using other languages are still out of luck for the time being. This is also how things began to resolve the last time Google messed up.
We're told that Google has been having issues testing and approving his submissions for other languages over the last month. Some of the supplementary details provided (like Google locking themselves out of Dias' testing account and apparently being unable to use their own) would be funny if this wasn't a developer's livelihood at stake. Hopefully Google can step up, fix its own failures, and bring business here back to normal — ideally without having this same episode repeat yet again in another few months.
Back for all languages
AutoVoice should now be working in all supported languages again, as developer João Dias reports. Despite all the hardship he had to endure, Dias thinks that the individual Google support staff members themselves were good throughout the process. He sees the problem in the whole review structure, starting with uncoordinated teams and the automated takedown that suspended the whole AutoVoice action after a user set up a command full of insults, something the developer has no control over.
While the English version of AutoVoice could return pretty fast, Dias says that the testing for all other languages was uncoordinated and full of glaring mistakes. He reports that "throughout this whole 3 month period I submitted the action many times only for 1 random tester for a specific language to point out a random error that no other tester for any other language pointed out, denying all languages from making it into production." The fact that a single review process takes almost two weeks certainly doesn't help.
Dias closes his post with, "What will Google think of next to bring it down the next time? Stick around to find out!" Let's hope this won't happen, but with the action already taken down for a while a year ago, I fear that season 3 is already scheduled for 2021.