Content Aware media news: March 28, 2024

Published: 29 March 2024

If Google's new Search Generative Experience is essentially demand-produced content on a subject of the searcher's choice - does that mean Google will now be liable for inaccuracies and slanderous assertions?

Lots of talk about Google's new Search Generative Experience this week, aka Google's Burgle Bot. 

For those otherwise engaged keeping air in the tyres of SEO-depleted sites reeling from a year of Google search confusion, Burgle Bot is ushering in the era of Google not just dictating traffic to sites based on its own self-serving rules, but in fact becoming a direct competitor to the entire internet for audience.

SGE is the point at which Google becomes a publisher.

It's clear to everyone in our industry that Google is already an ad-funded publishing business, albeit one that implies it is a cooperative entity which facilitates website visits (whether that it true or not.) 

Currently it creates a picture that it is akin to it being the old-fashioned newsagent which might sell a newspaper, but even if it does not it can better sell an advert in the window offering cat-sitting or dog-walking services because lots of people come in to the shop just to see what the day's papers have on their cover.

If someone comes in to browse titles, all parties are on an equal footing in the game of chance that a customer leaves with a paper under their arm and a new cat-sitter's details noted. And, in my case, a packet of Chocolate Buttons.

Burgle Bot ends that fiction. 

SGE will create and publish content which directly answers complex queries, much as a well-written website would. Or perhaps better, who knows. But, in a battle against other AI chatbots and ask-me-anything websites and apps pillaging the open web for content, SGE is no longer concerned about sending audiences on their way to other sites: it wants to stop them going anywhere else and become the destination.

Burgle Bot's newsagent will read your papers and websites and libraries and archives and all the thoughts and ideas of your people, and regurgitate them as its own in conversation with visitors.

Like the ultimate pub know-it-all, it might add the occasional equivalent to "I read it in the [insert name of paper]" to boost credibility, but since it is really an adverts and Chocolate Buttons business, it's only doing it to help itself stay on top.

In fact it will probably be able to offer cat-sitting tips and advice too, quite possibly revealing that cats can be left comfortably at home for a few hours a day without any particular danger to lives or limb, unless that is Molly's Moggy Mansion pays extra to grab that "sponsored conversation" opportunity.

My good friend GPP Content Supremo Robert Corbidge boils down some of the risk Burgle Bot presents at a micro level in his column this week, specifically to travel writers and guides. Suffice to say SGE could cut the need for sunblock for many a creator.

But elsewhere some of the other risks of becoming a publisher emerge, to Google itself or any other business modelling the SGE idea.

It's a question I've asked before, of editors and other professionals who understand the laws of libel, defamation, contempt of court, and a host of other legal trapdoors which journalistic training and legal expertise help navigate. As well as the simple premise that the threat of “It might be me…” in dock.

So now I'll ask it of the various bag holders nominally representing SGE in hundreds of different territories around the world: will you be happy to go to court because your bot wrote something illegal?

I can assure you that the courts of New York, Paris, London, Riyadh, Moscow or wherever Burgle Bot's tendrils may once extend, will not react in a uniform fashion. 

If your new publishing wondertool reveals something it should not, be that a protected truth or a confident fiction, whatever the legal veil you agree with publishers to try and slough blame their way, it won't work everywhere. Somebody will decide to put you on the hook for it, at some point in time.

Moreover, while I am not a cynic, I cannot believe there will not be a new digital cottage industry that springs up to turn Burgle Bot into the digital equivalent of a gin-soaked hobo that spouts the most outlandish conspiracy theories known to ear. 

I mean, unless I'm mistaken, Google cannot hide behind the US Section 230 law that shields platforms from liability for the digital content they transport if it has created the content itself.

If SGE extends beyond its current limited trials, look for a growing realisation that Google MUST pay for the content it references or relies upon, if only to keep itself and its people out of court until the end of time.

Anyway, on with this week's Content Aware...

A pressing legal question
A dive into the emerging clash between human laws on speech and comment in the era of AI-generated content. The question may not be “can AI be found liable?”, but rather who takes responsibility for the AI. Logic suggests humans will be held responsible eventually.

Wish you were here?
Imagine visiting a place where every visitor is trying to do the exact same thing, and there's a lot of them. And quiet places unknown to tourists become the number one result on Google. What might that lead to? Think of the influencers! Our influencer-in-chief Rob looks at the future of travel advice as doled out by Search Generative Experience and where it could lead to.

Another week, another investigation
Hot on the heels of last week's US DoJ investigation into Apple, this week the EU reveals its own dive into the business practices of the pricy phone firm, as well as Meta and Google just for good measure. It's been a good week to be a Big Tech lawyer, and it's getting better.

My enemy's weapon
Perhaps the best defence against AI search is AI itself. INMA hears from the WSJ on turning AI to your advantage.

Not all new music is good
Much like print doggedly not dying off, and often chipping more money into the pot than digital does for countless publishers worldwide, perhaps SGE will simply flounder against the sheer power of Google's existing olde worlde search solution. David Pierce argues SGE simply can't do what it promises.

Spam, Grift, and Effluence
Equally damaging to SGE is the idea that is simply reproduces spam and bilge, as dishonest operators work out its methods.

A cautionary tale
One publisher's painful experience sheds a light on the effect being blocked/delisted by Google and Meta can have.

The cookieless diet
How is your post-cookie strategy shaping up

The countdown
Media Voices sat down with industry expert Ian Betteridge to ask what actions are being taken or under consideration by publishers to defend themselves in the post-search era against tools like SGE.

"Hey it's me your human friend Mark."
If fresh-faced AI talents are getting phone calls from Mark Zuckerberg and starting salary offers in the millions, you can start to see how gaining any advantage in the space is of premium value to the giant social and search platforms. In this world, where your content could be the vital differentiator between creating an AI people use and one people ignore, the value of that content increases daily.