Last year, Google launched a personalized playlist of audio news called “Your News Update” for Google Assistant. The feature leverages machine learning techniques to understand the news content and how it relates to the listener’s own likes and interests. Today, the company says it’s publishing this personalized audio experience on Google Podcasts, allowing it to reach millions of podcast listeners in the U.S.
To subscribe to Your News Update, users will launch the Google Podcasts app, navigate to the Explore tab, then subscribe to listen a mix of stories that will reflect their interests, location, user history, and other preferences.
Your News Update was designed to be a smarter alternative to Alexa’s popular Flash Briefing. Today, Alexa users can customize their own Flash Briefing by adding additional sources and other content from any of the over 10,000 now Flash Briefing skills. However, this takes work on the end user’s part.
Google’s Your News Update instead relies on algorithms to do the heavy lifting, based on Google’s understanding of your interests.
This personalization takes into account data you’ve explicitly provided Google — like the topics, sources, and locations you’ve said you’re interested in following. In addition, it allows Google to use the data the company has gleaned from your use of other Google products to further personalize the news to your own interests, unless you’ve gone to your account settings page to turn personalization off.
Via a link in Google Assistant underneath the Your News Update feature, Google directs you to a website where it further explains how its news algorithms work. Here, Google explains the news algorithms don’t “try” to personalize results based on your political beliefs or other demographic factors.
However, Google will know and learn from activity like if you follow or hide specific publishers on Google News or Discover, if you follow particular topics, or if you directed Google to show you similar articles more or less frequently.
In other words, Google combines the wealth of information it knows about you with its knowledge of other efforts you’ve made to customize your news to your liking in order to craft Your News Update.
In some cases, this can be useful. You can get updates on your favorite sports team or your hometown news, for instance. There may not be a stated intention of directing someone towards left or right leaning sources, but it could certainly end up that way based on how this personalization technology works and Google’s publisher lineup — which includes both left of center and right of center sources.
In addition, Google said at launch that the personalization will get better the more you use the feature on Google Assistant, as it will learn from how you engage with the product.
Alongside the podcast update, Google is also making it easier to listen to local stories via Google Assistant. Users can say, “Hey Google, play local news” or “Hey Google, play news about [your city],” to hear a mix of native audio and text-to-speech local news stories. How you engage with this product can inform the choices made by Your News Update, as well.