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Medium hints at a nascent media coalition to block AI crawlers
September 30, 2023

Medium hints at a nascent media coalition to block AI crawlers

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Web publishing platform Medium has announced that it will block OpenAI’s GPTBot, an agent that scrapes web pages for content used to train the company’s AI models. But the real news may be that a group of platforms may soon form a unified front against what many consider an exploitation of their content.

AI makers do more than index, of course: they scrape the data to be used as source material for their models. Few are happy about this, and certainly not Medium’s CEO, Tony Stubblebine, who writes:

Therefore, he writes, Medium is defaulting to telling OpenAI to take a hike when its scraper comes knocking. (It is one of the few that will respect that request.)

However, he is quick to admit that this essentially voluntary approach is not likely to make a dent in the actions of spammers and others who will simply ignore the request. Though there is also the possibility of active measures (poisoning their data by directing dumb crawlers to fake content, for instance), that way lies escalation and expense, and likely lawsuits. Always with the lawsuits.

There’s hope, though. Stubblebine writes:

Others are facing the same problem, and like so many things in tech, more people aligned on a standard or or platform creates a network effect and improves the outcome for everyone. A coalition of big organizations would be a powerful counterbalance to unscrupulous AI platforms.

What’s holding them back? Unfortunately, multi-industry partnerships are in general slow to develop for all the reasons you might imagine. By the standards of publishing and copyright, AI is absolutely brand new and there are countless legal and ethical questions with no clear answers, let alone settled and widely accepted ones.

How can you agree to an IP protection partnership when the definition of IP and copyright is in flux? How can you move to ban AI use when your board is pushing to find ways to use it to the company’s advantage?

It may take a 900-pound internet gorilla like Wikipedia to take a bold first step and break the ice. Other organizations may be hamstrung by business concerns, but there are others unencumbered by such things and which may safely sally forth without fear of disappointing stockholders. But until someone steps up, we will remain at the mercy of the crawlers, which respect or ignore our consent at their pleasure.


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