Meta AI is getting around the company’s news block

Meta’s AI push might be undermining its efforts to block news in Canada and avoid a big bill to publishers.

Canadian users who ask Meta’s new chatbot about something in the news will get a detailed summary of the story, despite the block. Meta AI links to Google or Bing as a source, but tapping through shows that the search engine got its info from news outlets.

  • One news-related feature is blocked: Meta AI will say there’s an error or it’s having connection issues when asked for a summary of the day’s news or headlines from a specific outlet.

For example: Meta AI wouldn’t give us a rundown of CBC’s top stories. But asking about Ontario’s privacy commissioner investigating the Greenbelt saga generated an explanation of a new probe, citing a Google search where a CBC link topped the results.

  • We got similar results asking about a pasta plant getting $1.7 million in federal funding, a Competition Bureau investigation into Loblaw and Empire, and a Globe and Mail feature about orcas being threatened by container ships.
     
  • Summaries contained quotes, exclusive reporting, and even some word-for-word passages found only in news stories.

Why it matters: A Department of Canadian Heritage spokesperson told Peak Tech this could subject Meta to the Online News Act “particularly if portions of news content are reproduced as part of the technological processes used to generate the summary.”

  • The Online News Act forces large platforms that reproduce or help users access “any portion” of news content to share revenue with outlets. A 2023 government analysis estimated Meta would have to fork over $62 million annually under the act.

Yes, but: Meta is reviewing the examples but doesn’t believe its approach violates the act, with a spokesperson telling Peak Tech that it draws from sources “that are not restricted by this legislation.”

Zoom out: Tech platforms have a complicated relationship with news outlets. Companies have deprioritized news to avoid the hassle of regulation, but are also relying on outlets for AI training data and features. Meanwhile, AI-powered search could dramatically cut traffic to news sites.