CNET pauses its controversial AI-generated stories ‘for now’

CNET has hit the pause button on its controversial article writing bot.

In a staff call on Friday, CNET’s leadership announced that it would stop using artificial intelligence to write articles “for now,” according to The Verge.(Opens in a new window). Last week, online marketing expert Gael Breton tweeted(Opens in a new window) that a CNET article on financial planning came with a disclaimer that it was “generated using automation technology.” Futurism picked up the story, reporting that CNET had been “quietly publishing”(Opens in a new window) more than 70 SEO-friendly finance explainer articles since November 2022. What followed was backlash about using artificial intelligence to generate stories, without any kind of explicit ad, to achieve high SEO rankings, as well as a scrutiny on the accuracy of the articles.

AI-generated articles are listed as written by “CNET Money Staff” with a disclaimer originally stating “This article was generated using automation technology and thoroughly edited and fact-checked by an editor on our editorial team.” Criticism that the disclaimer was insufficient and too subtle, let alone unethical to use AI in the first place, quickly followed. The author is now listed as “CNET Money” and the disclaimer has been changed to “This article was assisted by an artificial intelligence engine and reviewed, verified, and edited by our editorial staff.”

The original posts for the stories contained errors such as confusing the terms APR and APY, and incorrectly calculating that a savings account with $10,000 and an interest rate of three percent would earn $10,300 when it would actually earn $300.

The artificial intelligence technology was created by private equity firm Red Ventures, which owns CNET, as well as Bankrate, The Points Guy and Publishing finance and banking content is lucrative for media sites because it attracts a lot of queries through search engines, which are then converted into revenue through affiliate links. Optimizing content for search is standard practice in digital media, but using a bot to identify and generate stories for the explicit purpose of monetization blurs the lines of ethical editorial practice. When a media site prioritizes lucrative content over relevant and timely news, it calls into question the integrity and credibility of the site.

In response, CNET posted a post.(Opens in a new window) explaining how the use of AI was intended “to see if the technology can help our busy staff of reporters and editors with their work to cover issues from a 360-degree perspective.” The rationale is that the technology could free up time and energy to focus on deeper reporting and analysis.

The Associated Press(Opens in a new window) it has also been using AI to collect and analyze news, transcribe videos and write texts. Meaning, while CNET has put its controversial tool on hold for now, it’s not the only one experimenting with this technology, and it certainly won’t be the last we hear of it.

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