As Google pushes deeper into AI, publishers see fresh challenges: You don’t need to read any more news in your life if you have artificial intelligence that can digest all the web information and serve a summary on demand. The stuff of nightmares for media barons, Google/GOOGL.O and others is experimenting with what they call generative AI, which creates new content from past data. (As Google pushes deeper into AI, publishers see fresh challenges)
Google launched a new form of search powered by generative AI in May after tech observers questioned the tech giant’s future dominance in providing information to consumers after the rise of OpenAI query-answering chatbot ChatGPT.
The product, called Search Generative Experience (SGE), uses AI to generate summary answers to specific search queries, with the Google system determining whether the format will be helpful. According to Google’s overview of SGE, these summaries appear at the top of the Google search homepage with links to dig deeper.
As Google pushes deeper into AI, publishers see fresh challenges
If publishers want to prevent their content from being used by Google AI to help generate these summaries, they must use the same tools that prevent them from appearing in Google search results, making them virtually invisible on the web.
For example, research John Fosse, the recent Nobel Prize winner in literature, and create three paragraphs on the author and his work. Drop-down buttons provide links to Foss content from Wikipedia, NPR, The New York Times, and other websites, with additional links appearing to the right of the summary.
Google says the AI-generated overviews are synthesized from multiple web pages and the links are designed as a jumping off point to learn more. It describes SGE as an opt-in experiment for users, to help it develop and improve the product, while incorporating feedback from news publishers and others.
For publishers, the new search tool is the latest red flag in a decades-long relationship in which they have both struggled to compete against Google for online advertising and rely on the tech giant for search traffic.
The still-developing product — now available in the US, India and Japan — has raised concerns among publishers as they try to find their footing in a world where how users find and pay for information could be dominated by AI, according to four major publishers who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity to avoid complicating ongoing negotiations with Google.
Those concerns relate to web traffic, whether publishers will be credited as sources of information appearing in SGE summaries, and the accuracy of those summaries, those publishers say. Most notably, publishers want to be
compensated for the content on which Google and other AI companies train their AI tools, a major sticking point around AI.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement; As we bring generative AI to search, we continue to prioritize approaches that drive valuable traffic to a wide range of creators, including news publishers, to support a healthy open web.
Regarding compensation, Google says it is working to better understand the business model of generative AI applications and to get input from publishers and others.
Google announced a new tool in late September, called Google Extended, that gives publishers the option to block their content from being used to train Google’s AI models.
Giving publishers the option to opt out of being crawled for AI is a gesture of good faith, said Daniel Coffey, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, an industry trade group that lobbies Congress on these issues. A question mark is whether the payments will follow through, and how much openness there is to a healthy price exchange.
The new tool does not allow publishers to block their content from being crawled for SGE, either the abstract or the links that appear with them, disappearing from traditional Google searches.
Publishers want to secure clicks for advertisers and appear on Google search keys for their business. According to an executive at one of the publishers, the design for SGE pushed links that appear in traditional search further down the page, potentially reducing traffic to those links by up to 40%.
More worrying is that web surfers may avoid clicking on any link if the SGE passage meets users’ information needs, satisfied, for example, by learning the best time of year to visit Paris, without clicking a travel publication website.
Nikhil Lai, senior analyst at Forrester Research, said SGE is definitely going to reduce organic traffic for publishers, and they need to think about a different way to measure the value of that content, if not click-through rate. Still, he believes that having their links appear on SGE will keep the publisher’s reputation strong.
Google says it designed SGE to highlight web content. Any estimates about specific traffic impacts are speculative and not representative, as what you see on SGE today may ultimately look quite different from what it launches in search more broadly, a company spokesperson said in a statement.
While publishers and other industries have spent decades adjusting their websites to show up prominently in traditional Google searches, these publishers say they don’t have enough data to do the same for the new SGE summary.
The new AI category is a black box for us, says an executive at one publisher. We don’t know how to confirm that we are a part of it or the algorithm behind it
Google says publishers don’t need to do anything different than what they’re already doing to appear in search.
Publishers allow Google to crawl their content for the purpose of appearing in search results by using a bot or piece of software to automatically scan and index it. CRAWLING is how Google indexes the web to show content in search.
Publisher’s concerns with SGE boil down to a key point: They say that Google is CRAWLING their content, for free, to create summaries that users may read instead of clicking on their links, and that Google hasn’t been clear about how they can block content from being crawled for SGE.
Google’s new search tool, said one publisher, is even more threatening to us and our business than a crawler that is crawling our business illegally.
Google did not comment on that assessment.
Given the option, websites are blocking their content from being used for AI if doing so doesn’t impact search, according to exclusive data from AI content detector Originality.ai. Since the August 7 release, 27.4% of top websites are blocking the ChatGPT bot, including The New York Times and Washington Post.