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Google Search’s ‘AI Overview’ a threat to journalism, warns NMA chief

Google Search’s ‘AI Overview’ a threat to journalism, warns NMA chief

Major changes to Google search risk undermining the business model of online journalism, the UK body representing news media organisations has warned.

The tech giant is integrating its generative AI product Gemini into its market-dominant search engine through “AI overviews” which are AI-generated summaries of information in response to search queries.

Publishers have not reacted positively to the development, expressing scepticism the AI Overview feature will drive traffic to their websites.

Owen Meredith, CEO of the News Media Association, told The Media Leader publishers are in fact worried the feature will disincentivise users from clicking on links to publisher websites.

“Google’s stated mission is to ‘organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible’ by sending visitors to websites,” said Meredith. “Introducing [generative AI] into search and AI Overviews that directly synthesise and present information to the user risks discouraging users from clicking through to the original links, in turn threatening the business model of those who invest in journalism and quality information.”

Competition in AI search

In a blog post, Liz Reid, head of Google Search, said, “Sometimes you want a quick answer, but you don’t have time to piece together all the information you need. Search will do the work for you with AI Overviews.”

Google has been experimenting with AI Overviews in its Search Labs for over a year as part of an effort to improve search’s user experience, which has come under criticism in recent years for becoming less useful at resolving queries.

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With AI Overviews, Google is looking to fend off competition from other Big Tech companies investing in AI, such as Microsoft with its investments in ChatGPT developer OpenAI and search engine Bing, as well as Meta’s own AI model, Llama 3.

“We’ve found that with AI Overviews, people use Search more, and are more satisfied with their results,” explained Reid, adding: “people are visiting a greater diversity of websites for help with more complex questions. And 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.”

‘We all lose’

Meredith noted these changes have been developed by Google “without consultation, transparency, permission, or reward for the original curators and rightsholders of that information.”

He added: “This potentially dangerous move ultimately risks undermining the diversity and quality of news and information available online. In that event, we all lose.”

Reid stated, however, that Google will “continue to focus on sending valuable traffic to publishers and creators.”

And in an attempt to reassure advertisers that its search business will not itself be undermined by the changes, Reid also said that “ads will continue to appear in dedicated slots throughout the page, with clear labelling to distinguish between organic and sponsored results.”

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AI Overviews are currently rolling out to users in the US market, with more countries “coming soon.” According to Reid, Google expects to bring the feature to “over a billion people” by the end of this year.

Google will continue to develop AI Overviews in Search Labs. Additional features Google announced it will be seeking to implement include the ability to adjust AI Overview results and ask increasing complex questions (e.g., “find me the best yoga or pilates studios in Boston and show me details on their intro offers, and walking time from Beacon Hill”).

In tandem with the rollout of AI Overviews, Google is also rolling out an optional “web search” feature, which allows users to search without receiving results that include Google’s knowledge panels and shopping modules.

According to a report by The Verge, “web search” also blocks the new AI Overview feature, offering users the ability to opt out of the latest developments and return to a more classic search experience.

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