CNET will pause publication of stories generated using artificial intelligence “for now,” the site’s leadership told employees on a staff call Friday.
The call, which lasted under an hour, was held a week after CNET came under fire for its use of AI tools on stories and one day after The Verge reported that AI tools had been in use for months, with little transparency to readers or staff. CNET hadn’t formally announced the use of AI until readers noticed a small disclosure.
“We didn’t do it in secret,” CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo told the group. “We did it quietly.”
CNET, owned by private equity firm Red Ventures, is among several websites that have been publishing articles written using AI. Other sites like Bankrate and CreditCards.com would also pause AI stories, executives on the call said.
Futurism noted that CNET and Bankrate appeared to have stopped running AI stories as early as Wednesday.
The call was hosted by Guglielmo, Lindsey Turrentine, CNET’s EVP of content and audience, and Lance Davis, Red Ventures’ vice president of content. They answered a handful of questions submitted by staff ahead of time in the AMA-style call.
Davis, who was listed as the point of contact for CNET’s AI stories until recently, also gave staff a more detailed rundown of the tool that has been utilized for the robot-written articles. Until now, most staff had very little insight into the machine that was generating dozens of stories appearing on CNET.
The AI, which is as of yet unnamed, is a proprietary tool built by Red Ventures, according to Davis. AI editors are able to choose domains and domain-level sections from which to pull data from and generate stories; editors can also use a combination of AI-generated text and their own writing or reporting.
Turrentine declined to answer staff questions about the dataset used to train AI in today’s meeting as well as around plagiarism concerns but said more information would be available next week and that some staff would get a preview of the tool.
Leadership also differentiated between the unnamed internal tool and other automated technology Red Ventures uses on its sites to auto-insert numbers into mortgage rate and refinance rate stories, which The Verge reported had been in use for far longer but that the company didn’t disclose.
CNET will begin including disclosures on their own stories about AI
“Some writers — I won’t call them reporters — have conflated these two things and had caused confusion and have somehow said that using a tool to insert numbers into interest rate or stock price stories is somehow part of some, I don’t know, devious enterprise,” Guglielmo said. “I’m sure that’s news to The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The New York Times, Forbes, and everyone else who does that and has been doing it for a very, very long time.”
Guglielmo said that, going forward, stories on CNET about artificial intelligence will have a disclosure that the outlet uses its own automated technologies. Red Ventures also created an AI working group spanning across multiple departments, though it’s unclear what the council has done so far — leadership noted that the Slack channel had been created.
“I just want to reassure everybody: this will pass,” Turrentine said of the media coverage in recent weeks. “It’s uncomfortable, we will get through it, the news cycle will move on.”
Yesterday, The Verge reported that despite CNET’s “experiments” in AI-generated technology, many on staff were largely kept in the dark about what tools the company was using or how it was using them. At times, staffers told The Verge that they didn’t know if content published to CNET was AI-generated or written by their human colleagues. CNET and Red Ventures declined to answer any of The Verge’s questions about the tools used or disclosure policies.
The stories that used AI are central to Red Ventures’ SEO-winning marketing strategy in which websites publish content with the aim of ranking highly in Google search. The highly trafficked pages are then loaded with ads for things like credit cards and loans — lucrative opportunities for affiliate marketing.