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As Google pushes deeper into AI, publishers see fresh challenges

Photo: Google Bard

As Google pushes deeper into AI, publishers see fresh challenges. Suppose you had artificial intelligence that could process all the material on the web and provide a summary whenever needed. In that case, you might never have to read another news piece.

As Google (GOOGL.O) and others experiment with so-called generative AI, which generates new content from historical data, that is the stuff of media moguls’ nightmares.

After industry experts questioned the tech giant’s future dominance in supplying customers with information in the wake of the growth of OpenAI’s question-answering chatbot, ChatGPT, Google started rolling out a new type of search-driven by generative AI in May.

The tool, called Search Generative Experience (SGE), employs artificial intelligence to generate summaries in response to particular search queries, depending on whether Google’s algorithm thinks the format would be useful. According to Google’s description of SGE, the summaries are shown at the top of the Google search homepage, along with buttons to “dig deeper.”

Publishers must utilize the same technique that would prohibit them from appearing in Google search results to prevent Google’s AI from using their material to help build those summaries, thus making them invisible on the internet.

For instance, searching “Who is Jon Fosse” yields three lines about the author and his work. Jon Fosse just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Connections to Fosse material may be found on Wikipedia, NPR, The New York Times, and other websites via drop-down menus; further connections can be found to the right of the synopsis.

According to Google, the AI-generated summaries are combined from various online pages, and the links are intended to serve as a starting point for further research. To grow and enhance the product, it characterizes SGE as an opt-in experiment for consumers. It also takes input from news publishers and other sources into account.

Publishers saw the new search tool as the most recent warning sign in a partnership that has spanned decades, during which time they have both battled to compete with Google for online advertising and depended on the tech giant for search traffic.

Four major publishers who spoke to Reuters anonymously to avoid complicating ongoing negotiations with Google said the still-evolving product has raised concerns among publishers as they try to determine their place in a world where AI could dominate how users find and pay for information.

According to the publishers, these worries are related to online traffic, whether or not publishers would be acknowledged as the source of material included in the SGE summaries and the integrity of such summaries. The main issue with AI is that publishers want to be paid for the content that Google and other AI companies use to train their AI technologies.

“As we introduce generative AI into Search, we’re continuing to prioritize approaches that send valuable traffic to a wide range of creators, including news publishers, to support a healthy, open web,” a Google representative said.

Regarding payment, Google said it is attempting better to understand the economic models of generative AI applications and soliciting feedback from publishers and other parties.

At the end of September, Google unveiled Google-Extended, a new tool that allows publishers to exclude their material from being used by Google to train its AI models.

Giving publishers a choice to opt out of being crawled for AI is a “good faith gesture,” according to Danielle Coffey, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance. This business trade group has been advocating for these concerns before Congress. “Whether payments will follow is uncertain, as is how much room there is for a healthier value exchange.”

Publishers cannot prevent their material, including summaries and the links that appear with them, from crawling for SGE using the new tool without removing their content from standard Google searches.

Publishers need clicks to attract advertising; their success depends on appearing in Google searches. According to a publishing executive, the design for SGE has shifted the links in regular searches further down the page, potentially reducing traffic to those links by as much as 40%.

More concerning is the prospect that online visitors won’t click any of the links if the SGE passage satisfies their informational needs; for instance, they are satisfied to discover the ideal time of year to visit Paris without visiting a vacation website.

SGE would “definitely decrease publishers’ organic traffic, and they’re going to have to think about a different way to measure the value of that content if not click-through rate,” according to Forrester Research Senior Analyst Nikhil Lai. Nevertheless, he thinks the connections shown in SGE will not harm publishers’ reputations.

According to Google, SGE was created to draw attention to web content. “Any estimates about specific traffic impacts are speculative and not representative, as what you see today in SGE may look quite different from what ultimately launches more broadly in Search,” a company spokeswoman stated.

Publishers and other companies have spent decades modifying their websites to rank highly in conventional Google searches. Still, they claim they lack the knowledge necessary to do the same for the new SGE summary.

According to a publication official, the new AI section is a mystery. “We don’t know the algorithm behind it or ensureke sure we’re a part of it.” According to Google, publishers need not alter their current practices to appear in searches.

Publishers have traditionally let Google “crawl” their content—a piece of software that routinely scans and indexes content—for it to show in search results. Google indexes the web using “crawling” to make material visible in searches.

Publishers’ main issue with SGE is that Google scans their material without payment to provide summaries that visitors may read instead of clicking on their links. Google hasn’t made it apparent how to prevent content from being crawled for SGE.

One publisher said that Google’s new search function “is even more threatening to us and our business than a crawler that is crawling our business illegally.”

Regarding the evaluation, Google made no comments. According to exclusive data from AI content detector Originality.ai, websites prevent using their material for AI when allowed to do so as long as doing so has no negative effects on search. The New York Times and the Washington Post are two major websites that have blocked ChatGPT’s bot since its introduction on August 7. In contrast, 6% of users have been blocking Google-Extended since its launch on September 28.

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