Once upon a time, watching TV meant taking the remote control, pressing the power on and flipping through channels. Boy, how have things changed! When you watch TV with the new $50 Chromecast streaming stick from Google, the search giant tries to find content that you may want to watch based on what it knows about you.
Before you get started, it wants you to take these steps:
⦿ Plug-in the streaming stick into your TV.
⦿ On your smartphone, download and open the Google Home app, log in and enter the home address where you are using the Chromecast.
⦿ Give access to your location data to find the nearby Chromecast.
⦿ Give access to your phone camera to scan a bar code shown on the TV screen.
⦿ Specify where the Chromecast is — living room, kitchen or bedroom.
⦿ There’s an option to share more information with Google to help improve the product and services.
⦿ Pick your streaming apps such as Netflix, YouTube TV, Disney+ and so on.
The “For you” page is the main screen of the new Chromecast. Google gathered information about activities on my Google account — my online searches and YouTube videos I watched, to find content I may enjoy.
All told, I was disappointed. Given how much Google knows about me, I was hoping it would do a better job at predicting what I would like to see. In the top row, labelled “Top picks for you,” Google recommended that I watch The Wendy Williams Show, a celebrity talk show, as well as SportsCenter. (For the record, both my wife and I don’t watch talk shows, and we’re not sports fans.)
It also recommended I check out Wonder Park and Bigfoot Junior, both children’s animated movies. (We don’t have children.)
A few recommendations were spot on. But overall, the “For you” page felt like a grab bag of hits and misses. The Chromecast also has an “Apps” page that shows a simple grid of my streaming apps for me to open and find content by myself. That’s generally how Roku and Apple TV work, and to me, still a better way to watch TV.
I described my experience to Google and pressed the company on why it needed so much information just to set up the Chromecast.
The company said the set-up process with the Google Home app was an optional shortcut to skip manually entering my Google account information and password with the remote control. Granting access to the location and camera sensors was a security requirement for the set-up process. Sharing my home address was also optional, to help Google give updates on local information like the weather.
As for the inconsistent recommendations, Google said it made suggestions from a wide variety of signals of activity on Google’s products, including entertainment-related searches and programmes added to my watch list, and that the picks would get better over time.
My struggle with the streaming era is never knowing what to watch. The Chromecast, if it had worked well for me, would have helped solve that problem.
Yet I’m probably not the target audience: Over the years, I’ve taken steps to minimise the data I share with tech companies, including Google and Facebook, and that may be largely why the Chromecast’s recommendations were off the mark. So the Chromecast may work for those who don’t think twice about sharing information with Google.
Come to think of it, that’s plenty of people.