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Publishers Worry Over Google’s New AI Search Tool 

FILE - A woman passes the logo from the web search engine provider Google during the digital society festival 're:publica', at the Arena Berlin in Berlin, Germany June 9, 2022. (REUTERS/Annegret Hilse)
FILE - A woman passes the logo from the web search engine provider Google during the digital society festival 're:publica', at the Arena Berlin in Berlin, Germany June 9, 2022. (REUTERS/Annegret Hilse)
Publishers Worry Over Google’s New AI Search Tool 
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Publishing companies are growing increasingly concerned about generative AI, especially a model developed by Google.

Since May, Google has begun releasing a new form of search in the United States, India, and Japan powered by generative AI. The product is called Search Generative Experience, or SGE. SGE uses AI to create summaries for some search questions. Google says those summaries appear on the top of the Google search homepage, with links to “dig deeper.”

If publishers want to prevent their content from being used by Google’s AI to create those summaries, they must use the same tool that would prevent them from appearing in Google search results. That would make it difficult for people using search to find the publishers that choose not to be involved in SGE.

Google says that the AI-generated summaries are put together from many web pages and that the links are designed to be a starting point to learn more. The company describes SGE as an opt-in experiment for users, who will help develop and improve the product.

To publishers, however, the new search tool is the latest concern in an unusual relationship. Publishers both compete against Google for online advertising and depend on the company for search traffic.

Four major publishers spoke to Reuters news agency recently. The businesses said they are trying to understand their place in a world where AI could control how users find and pay for information. The publishers asked not to be identified because of ongoing negotiations with Google.

Publisher concerns relate to a number of issues. They include the issue of web traffic; whether publishers will be credited as the providers of information that appears in the SGE summaries; and whether those summaries are correct. Most importantly, publishers want to be paid for the content on which Google and other AI companies train their AI tools.

A Google spokesperson said in a statement: “As we bring 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.”

On the issue of payments, Google said it is developing a better understanding of the business of generative AI applications and getting opinions from publishers and others.

In late September, Google announced a new tool called Google-Extended. It gives publishers the choice to block their content from being used by Google to train its AI models.

Giving publishers the choice to not be used for AI is a “good faith gesture,” said Danielle Coffey, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, an industry trade group. “Whether payments will follow is a question mark, and to what extent there is openness to having a healthier value exchange,” Coffey added.

The new tool does not permit publishers to block their content from being used for SGE without disappearing from traditional Google search.

Publishers want evidence that people are using their websites to secure advertisers. Showing up in Google search is important to their business. The design for SGE has pushed the links that appear in traditional search further down the webpage. That might reduce traffic to those links by as much as 40 percent, said an official at one of the publishers.

More worrying is the possibility that people searching the web will avoid clicking any of the links if the SGE passage meets the users’ need for information.

Nikhil Lai is an expert with Forrester Research, a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He said SGE is “definitely going to decrease publishers’…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.”

Even so, he believes publishers will remain trusted because their links will appear in SGE.

I’m John Russell.

Helen Coster reported on this story for Reuters. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

generative AI – n. a type of artificial intelligence technology that can produce different kinds of content

model – n. a particular type or version of a product

summary –n. a restatement of written material that is shorter and contains only the main points

opt-in —n. to choose to do or be involved in something

content – n. the things that are in something; the ideas, facts, or images that are in a book, article, speech, movie, etc.

prioritize v. to organize (things) so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first

application – n. a computer program that performs a particular task

gesture – n. something said or done to show a particular feeling or attitude

click –n. electronic evidence that a person has looked at a website