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Artificial intelligence reaches beyond the pay walls of newspapers

twas here Big news in Canada last week – but if you’re in Canada itself, you might have missed it. On February 22, it emerged that Google was blocking access to news content, in a five-week trial affecting about 4% of users in the country. The action comes as Canada’s Senate considers a bill that would force major internet companies to pay publishers for links to their stories. Google says it may simply block them instead; The Canadian government says the search engine’s actions amount to intimidation.

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It is the latest episode in a global dispute between new and old media. News organizations, which in the past two decades have seen most of their online advertising revenue disappear, are accusing search engines and social networks of profiting from content that is not theirs. Google and Facebook, which had most of the criticism, responded that they only display links and a few lines of text, rather than the articles themselves, and in doing so they direct traffic to publishers (who can in any case opt out if they choose). Facebook estimates that it sends 1.9 billion clicks annually to Canadian media, an estimated C$230 million ($170 million) in advertising.

The arguments of the online platforms mostly fell on deaf ears. Encouraged by the local press, governments in countries such as Australia, Britain and Spain have passed or proposed laws aimed at funneling money from Silicon Valley into local media companies. The Australian law, passed in 2021, prompted tech companies to make payments to Australian media reportedly worth around A$200 million ($135 million) in the program’s first year.

To fend off similar legislation elsewhere, Google and Facebook have created mechanisms to direct “subsidies” to media companies. Google’s News Showcase will spend about $1 billion in 2020-23 licensing content from more than 2,000 news organizations in more than 20 countries. Facebook news tab (where The Economist co) does a similar thing, but has been scaled back recently. Unlike Google, Facebook can live without news, which is only 3% of what users see in their feed.

The laws sometimes had the feeling of alienating wealthy foreign tech companies by governments. But developments in search mean that publishers’ complaints seem increasingly justified. Search engines are getting better at displaying information without referring visitors to external sources. Ask Google how big Canada’s population is and it will simply tell you it was 38 million in 2021 (followed by the usual list of suggested websites). About a quarter of Google desktop searches now end without subsequent clicks, according to Semrush, an internet marketing company.

artificial intelligence (Amnesty International) promises to greatly improve this ability. Google Amnesty International The assistant, Bard, is still under wraps. But its competitor, which is integrated into Microsoft’s Bing search engine, is already resolving queries. Ask the old Bing for a summary of recent Canadian election results and points out sites including CBC news f Globe and Mail. Ask the new Bing and it will give a decent account in its own right (along with links in the footnotes to the sources). Amnesty International Assistants can even reach beyond pay walls. User trying to find The New York TimesMacaroni and Cheese Recipe will be discontinued by requiring payment and subscription. But ask Bing Amnesty International And it offers a paraphrased version of the entire recipe, complete with a lip-licking emoji.

Search companies admit that they are still finding their way with the new technology, which has not yet been made public. It is unlikely that the publishers’ attorney will be satisfied. A senior consultant at a large media company argues so Amnesty InternationalSearch companies should be forced to license the content they renew, just as Spotify must pay record companies to play their songs. Amnesty InternationalHe says that using other people’s material is “the copyright issue of our time”. For years, publishers’ complaints against the platforms have been somewhat hollow. Now they have a real story on their hands.

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