Months after news broke that tech outlet CNET had quietly begun producing articles with generative AI systems, the site is clarifying how it will — and won’t — use the tools in the future.
Among its promises: stories will not be written entirely using an AI tool, and hands-on reviews and testing of products will be done by humans. CNET will also not publish images and videos generated using AI “as of now.” But the outlet says it will “explore leveraging” AI tools to sort and analyze data and to create outlines for stories, analyze existing text, and generate explanatory content. The in-house tool CNET is using is called Responsible AI Machine Partner, or RAMP, according to the memo.
CNET has also gone back and updated the dozens of previously published stories generated using AI systems that triggered backlash in January. Of the more than 70 stories published over the course of several months, CNET eventually issued corrections on more than half. Some contained factual errors, while others were updated to replace “phrases that were not entirely original,” suggesting they may have contained plagiarized material. Stories now include an editor’s note reading, “An earlier version of this article was assisted by an AI engine. This version has been substantially updated by a staff writer.”
Red Ventures, a private equity-backed marketing company that bought CNET in 2020 from CBS, has deployed AI systems across the many brands and websites it owns — Bankrate, a personal finance website, has also published dozens of AI-generated stories, as has CreditCards.com, another site owned by Red Ventures. Across outlets, Red Ventures’ playbook is the same: publish a slew of SEO-bait articles containing keywords that people are searching for and then load the pages with lucrative affiliate marketing ads. The company then profits when readers click through, open a banking account, or sign up for a credit card.
The AI policy update comes just weeks after CNET’s editorial staff announced they had formed a union with the Writers Guild of America, East — and guardrails around the use of AI systems was among concerns. Workers cited a “lack of transparency and accountability from management” with regard to the use of AI tools, as well as concerns around editorial independence at the outlet. The policy was crafted internally, and the union was not involved in discussions. (Disclosure: The Verge’s editorial team is also unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East.)
In February, The Verge reported that CNET journalists were at times pressured to change their work to appease advertisers, and some staff members were asked to work on ads for Red Ventures clients, causing frustration and prompting staff to try to push back.
In a tweet, the CNET Media Workers Union said it would negotiate key issues like testing and reevaluating the tool and the ability to pull bylines before the tool is deployed.
CNET is just one of several high-profile news outlets that have announced the use of generative AI models for stories. In February, BuzzFeed began publishing quizzes that used an AI software to generate answers, eventually publishing dozens of travel guides using AI tools. In April, Insider said it was experimenting with using ChatGPT to generate SEO headlines, do interview prep, and create outlines, as well as adding AI-generated text to stories.