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News Publishers Are Wary of the Microsoft Bing Chatbot’s Media Diet


OpenAI’s ChatGPT tool, which the startup released in November, has been known to plagiarize or only lightly reworked the writing of humans. Some large US public school systems, including that of New York City, have banned the use of ChatGPT. Bing uses a Microsoft AI system called Prometheus that the company says builds on OpenAI’s ChatGPT and is fine-tuned to give users safer and more timely search results.

When asked at Microsoft’s media event this week about the new Bing search potentially plagiarizing the work of human writers, the company’s consumer chief marketing officer Yusuf Mehdi said the company “cares a bunch about being able to drive traffic back to content creators.” The links the Bing chatbot includes at the end of each response, he said, are meant to “make it easy for people to go in and click through to those sites.” Roulston of Microsoft declined to share information about how many early testers were clicking through those citation links to visit the information’s source.

Now publishers are weighing whether to strike back at Microsoft. The friendly partner that stood by their side in Congress to help them mostly fight search goliath Google is now the frontrunner in the race to infuse chat technology into search.

“Unless there’s a specific agreement in place, there’s just really no revenue coming back to news publications. And it is highly problematic for our industry,” says Danielle Coffey, executive vice president and general counsel at News Media Alliance, a trade group of more than 2,000 print and online publications worldwide, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. WIRED parent Condé Nast is also a member of the group.

Absent any compensation, Coffey calls the Bing chatbot’s attribution “less than stellar for our taste.” Asked whether members had considered demanding Bing stop using their content in its new search experience, she says there will be discussions on the topic.

Other news trade groups are also watching search chatbots closely. “We are very concerned about the role this revolutionary technology, which has the potential to do good, can play in the exponential proliferation of misinformation,” says Paul Deegan, president and CEO of trade body News Media Canada. “Real journalism costs real money, and it is in Big Tech platforms’ self-interest to negotiate fair content licensing agreements with news publishers.”

Google and Microsoft pay some publishers to distribute their content in various apps and features, including select search results as required by European law. Microsoft’s MSN web portal remains a big driver of traffic and licensing sales for some publishers, and Google has been pushing a licensing regime it calls News Showcase that delivers stories to Google News and the company’s newsfeed app Discover.

But the new chatbot experience offered by Bing—and a bot called Bard in the works from Google—offer much more than just the links, short previews, and thumbnails common on tech platforms. They are promoted as a way to use AI to immerse users in a conversation that can provide them the information they want quickly, fluidly, and without ever having to leave the chat box. If web users spend more time with bots and less time clicking links, publishers could be cut off from sales of subscriptions, ads, and referrals.



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