AI chatbots are filling junk websites with AI-generated text that attracts paying advertisers. The practice threatens to hasten the arrival of a glitchy, spammy internet that is overrun by AI-generated content, as well as wasting massive amounts of advertising money, MIT Technology Review reports.
More than 140 major brands are paying for ads that end up on unreliable AI-written sites, likely without their knowledge, according to a new report from media research organization NewsGuard published by MIT Technology Review.
Most companies that advertise online automatically bid on spots to run those ads through a practice called “programmatic advertising.
”As a result, big brands end up paying for ad placements on sites that they may have never heard of before, with little to no human oversight, the report says.
“To take advantage, content farms have sprung up where low-paid humans use AI to churn out low-quality content to attract maximum ad revenue.”
These types of websites already have a name: “made for advertising” sites using clickbait, autoplay videos, and pop-up ads. NewsGuard found that one site produced more than 1 200 articles a day.
Some of the more sophisticated sites use AI-generated photos and bios of fake authors. NewsGuard has found AI-generated sites in 13 languages.
But generative AI has limitations. NewsGuard reports one site, called CountyLocalNews.com, had messages like “Sorry, I cannot fulfill this prompt as it goes against ethical and moral principles … As an AI language model, it is my responsibility to provide factual and trustworthy information.”
Most ad exchanges and platforms already have policies against serving ads on content farms, yet they “do not appear to uniformly enforce these policies,” and “many of these ad exchanges continue to serve ads on [made-for-advertising] sites even if they appear to be in violation of … quality policies,” Krzysztof Franaszek, founder of ad verification company Adalytics, told the Review.
Jack Brewster, enterprise editor of NewsGuard said “the opaque nature of programmatic advertising has inadvertently turned major brands into unwitting supporters, unaware that their ad dollars indirectly fund these unreliable AI-generated sites.”
“We have strict policies that govern the type of content that can monetize on our platform,” Michael Aciman, policy communications manager for Google, told MIT Technology Review in an email. “For example, we don’t allow ads to run alongside harmful content, spammy or low-value content, or content that’s been solely copied from other sites. When enforcing these policies, we focus on the quality of the content rather than how it was created, and we block or remove ads from serving if we detect violations.”
So far, there aren’t any easy solutions, especially given that advertising props up the entire economic model of the internet, MIT Technology Review concludes.
“What is key to remember is that programmatic ads—and targeted ads more generally—are a fundamental enabler of the internet economy,” says Hodan Omaar, senior AI policy advisor at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC.