Some news publishers are optimistic about Apple’s approach to news and GenAI, which is in sharp contrast to that of some other Big Tech platforms and highlights the evolving role of technology in news delivery.
Apple is asking permission to use news content to train its version of GenAI — and offering hefty payments for doing so.
“It’s clear the developers of generative AI need our reliable, up-to-date content to make their products useful to consumers,” Saffron Howden, AI working group lead at Australian Community Media (ACM), told INMA in an interview.
ACM has around 100 mastheads across regional Australia, producing news for a national audience as well.
“Paying to access that content is only fair,” Howden said.
After all, asking permission to license news archives to train GenAI models before actually doing it stands in stark contrast to approaches of some other AI-enabled tech giants, such as OpenAI and Microsoft, that have sought licensing deals only after publisher content had been used, as noted in The New York Times, which is suing both of the latter.
Playing catch up
In late December, The Times reported Apple had begun to float multi-year deals, reportedly worth US$50 million, with news organisations, including NBC News; Conde Nast, which publishes Vogue and The New Yorker; and IAC, whose holdings include People, The Daily Beast, and Better Homes and Gardens.
While other companies have taken written material from across the Internet without permission, sometimes leading to lawsuits, Apple has taken a more considered approach, The Times observed, partly due to what Apple Magazine called Apple’s “privacy-focused philosophy.”
The Times, though, also reported Apple has been in discussions for years about where data for GenAI development will come from, but because of commitments to user privacy, the company has been hesitant to use data connected from the Internet.
“Apple really is playing catch up and feeling the heat,” said Sonali Verma, INMA’s new Generative AI Initiative lead. She explained that:
Apple really has been totally absent from all the GenAI conversation for the past year and a quarter.
Apple introduced new MacBook Pro and iMac computers and three new chips to power them in October, highlighting that these can be used by Artificial Intelligence researchers, whose chatbots and other creations are often constrained by how much data can be held in the computer’s memory.
Apple also launched AI-narrated books last year, without much fanfare. This means it will not need to pay someone (often the author) to narrate them and it can get them to market faster. It is a digital voice, based on a human narrator. (This is in contrast to Audible, owned by Amazon, which explicitly says it will use only human voices.)
Legendary Apple designer Jony Ive is now working with OpenAI to design the smartphone of the future — or its successor, which may not be a phone at all but a device that uses GenAI.
Samsung, Apple’s biggest rival in the smartphone space, has just announced that its new smartphone is going to be packed with Google-powered GenAI features, such as simultaneous translation of phone calls in foreign languages, rewriting messages in the right tone, and a “circle-to-search” function in which circling any part of an image on screen searches it in Google.
Verma also noted that Apple’s Siri is due for a revamp, since, as The Times said, it has remained “largely stagnant in the decade since its release.”
Further, The Verge noted Apple is “reportedly spending ‘millions of dollars a day’ on AI,” has “released a machine learning framework to build models that run well on Apple Silicon,” as well as “working to optimise the ability to run LLMs on phones.” Apple Insider wrote that Apple published a December paper on “rapidly creating 3D avatars of humans from brief video clips.”
Publisher response mixed
Although some news publishers are optimistic, others have trepidations.
Among the publishers The Times contacted, some remained “lukewarm on the overture.” In part, of course, this is due to years of inconsistent attention from Meta, which makes them “wary of jumping into business with Silicon Valley,” said The Times.
ACM’s Howden, for example, said: “This can’t be a short-term or token commitment. It has to be an ongoing collaboration between AI developers and news, and we welcome those conversations with Apple and others.”
Other publishers The Times spoke with said Apple’s terms are too “expansive,” consisting of “broad licensing” of content and archives, with Apple off the hook should legal liabilities arise.
Another concern The Times encountered was “potential competitive risk given Apple’s substantial audience for news on its devices.” For example, some news executives are alarmed that GenAI products like OpenAI’s ChatGPT will divert readers and subscribers from their news platforms. Apple Insider also wrote that Apple was “’vague’” about future plans for the content beyond AI training.
One senior product manager in charge of machine learning at his media company told INMA he believes these types of agreements are risky for a variety of reasons:
The future of AI products is, at this point, unclear.
How the content will be used is unclear.
The deals as structured fail to provide clarity on those issues.
Further, the product manager told INMA, publishers stand to lose their direct relationships with customers by licensing content, noting those relationships are a “key strategic pillar” of subscription strategies. And lacking a clear framework for constructing licensing agreements increases publisher risk.
The manager thinks that because publishers have shifted to consumer revenue via subscriptions, the new AI structures need to preserve “this exclusivity and value exchange” of what publishers offer. Before jumping in, the manager advised, publishers need to first explore how subscriptions and AI interfaces will work together.
OpenAI has released a statement saying that the company respects “the rights of content creators and owners and believes they should benefit from AI technology,” and citing deals with the American Journalism Project and Axel Springer according to The Times.