Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Google’s AI-powered search engine could be ‘catastrophic’ for news publishers, critics warn

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Google’s controversial move to introduce AI-generated summaries to its search engine could cause “catastrophic” damage to cash-strapped publishers and content creators who rely on the traffic to generate crucial revenue, prominent advocates have warned.

The “AI Overviews” feature – unveiled at Google’s annual I/O conference earlier this week – will automatically generate answers to complex user queries such as “how to fix my toilet,” with search results effectively demoting links to other web sites.

News Media Alliance CEO Danielle Coffee – who leads a nonprofit that represents more than 2,200 publishers, including The Post – described Google’s plans as a “perverse twist on innovation” that will be “catastrophic to our traffic.”


Google unveiled AI Overviews earlier this week. AP

“Google’s new product will further diminish the limited traffic publishers rely on to invest in journalists, uncover and report on critical issues, and to fuel these AI summaries in the first place,” Coffee told The Post. “It is offensive and potentially unlawful to accept this fate from a dominant monopoly that makes up the rules as they go.”

The change could prompt increased regulatory and legal scrutiny for Google, which already faces a landmark federal antitrust suit targeting its alleged monopoly over 90% of the online search market.

Google also faces several legal battles over its ad tech practices, including a $2.3 billion lawsuit filed by media giant Axel Springer and 31 other publishers in February.

The firms allege they have “incurred losses due to a less competitive market, which is a direct result of Google’s misconduct.”

Critics have also slammed Google and OpenAI for using publishers’ content to “train” their AI chatbots without proper credit or compensation — and then using the chatbots to further erode their audiences.

Potential damage isn’t limited to media firms. Advocates for content creators say they face a familiar threat to their survival as Google increasingly relies on AI within its search engine.

“The changes brought by Google’s AI Overview could significantly impact revenue streams, with the potential to impact billions of dollars in revenue for those who currently rank high in search results,” Jeff Ragovin, the CEO of the ad tech firm Semasio, said in a statement.


Google
AI Overviews will appear at the top of Google search results for complex questions. AP

Marc McCollum, chief innovation officer at creator media firm Raptive, said it was “evident that Google wields excessive unchecked power in its search engine design.”

“We urgently appeal to Google, lawmakers, and advertising, media, and digital technology companies to recognize the grave implications of sacrificing content creators to Big Tech and unfair AI practices,” McCollum said.

The Post has reached out to Google for comment.

Google detailed its AI plans for search just one day after Microsoft-backed OpenAI, its chief competitor on the burgeoning technology, unveiled an upgraded chatbot capable of holding conversations with users in real time.

Google tried to head off the media industry’s concerns about lost traffic in its blog post announcing the changes.

The company has also stressed that simpler search queries, such as searches for particular companies or websites, will yield a more traditional set of results.

“We see that the links included in AI Overviews get more clicks than if the page had appeared as a traditional web listing for that query,” wrote Liz Reid, the head of Google Search. “As we expand this experience, we’ll continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators.”

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