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Plagiarism Perplexes Perplexity AI as Tech Giant Rivalry Intensifies

Jul. 02, 2024.
4 min. read. 1 Interactions

AI startup Perplexity AI, backed by tech heavyweights, faces ethical scrutiny over content practices amid growing competition in generative AI. Can it navigate the complex landscape of AI-driven search?

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Perplexity AI, an artificial intelligence startup aiming to disrupt the search engine market, has come under scrutiny for its content practices. The company, which has garnered significant investment from tech luminaries including Jeff Bezos, seeks to rival giants like Google by offering an AI-driven search chatbot. However, its methods have raised ethical concerns within the media industry.

Allegations of Content Misuse

Perplexity AI’s main product is a search chatbot that uses AI to provide concise answers to user queries, functioning similarly to a blend of Wikipedia and ChatGPT. This tool has been accused of summarizing and distributing content from various media sources without proper attribution. Forbes has alleged that Perplexity published a summary of one of its investigative articles without citing the original source, a claim that Perplexity CEO Aravind Srinivas has contested. Srinivas insists that the company’s technology does not train on other entities’ content but rather aggregates information generated by other AI systems.

Further complicating the matter, a WIRED investigation found that Perplexity’s chatbot was accessing and scraping content from websites in violation of the Robots Exclusion Protocol, which dictates how web crawlers should interact with sites. This investigation revealed that Perplexity’s bot created content that closely mirrored original articles without proper permissions or acknowledgments, leading to accusations of plagiarism.

Incidents of Fabricated Quotes

The Associated Press reported another troubling aspect of Perplexity’s technology: the generation of fabricated quotes attributed to real people. One case involved a former town official from Martha’s Vineyard who was falsely quoted on his views about marijuana legalization. This incident, among others, highlights the challenges AI systems face in maintaining accuracy and reliability.

Srinivas acknowledged these issues, attributing them to what is known as “hallucinations” in AI parlance, where models generate believable but incorrect information. He noted that the feature responsible for these errors was intended for essay composition and grammar correction and was more prone to inaccuracies.

Industry Reaction and Legal Concerns

The reaction from the media industry has been critical. Randall Lane, Chief Content Officer of Forbes Media, has accused Perplexity of undermining journalism by treating it as a commodity and failing to respect the hard work of reporters. He emphasized the need for AI companies to respect proprietary content and the added value of professional journalism.

Legal experts have suggested that Perplexity might face legal challenges, including claims of copyright infringement and deceptive practices. James Grimmelmann, a professor of digital and information law at Cornell University, explained that while summarizing factual information is not automatically a copyright violation, the extent and context of the duplication are crucial factors. The practice of bypassing paywalls and summarizing content before publishers can benefit commercially could lead to misappropriation claims.

Pam Samuelson, a law professor at UC Berkeley, pointed out that the practices might not meet the substantial similarity threshold needed for copyright infringement. However, Bhamati Viswanathan from New England Law argued that a new legal framework might be necessary to address the broader implications of AI on intellectual property and creative economies.

In Defense of Perplexity AI

It seems that team Perplexity AI is seeking answers despite being perplexed by the plagiarism accusations.

On June 28, 2024, Amazon’s spokesperson Samantha Mayowa stated that the company is examining details from a WIRED investigation suggesting Perplexity AI scraped content from restricted websites. Why is Amazon investigating this allegations? Well, ignoring the fact that Jeff Bezos is one of the prominent investors behind team Perplexity, Perplexity AI operates using Amazon Web Services (AWS). Hence, the spokesperson emphasized that AWS customers must comply with their terms of service, which prohibit abusive and illegal activities. Apparently, Amazon regularly investigates reports of potential abuse.

Perplexity spokesperson Sara Platnick asserted that the company has confirmed its services do not violate AWS terms of service in their web crawling practices.

Future Prospects for Perplexity AI

Despite these controversies, Perplexity AI continues to grow, reporting over 85 million web visits in May. Srinivas is hopeful about forming revenue-sharing partnerships with news publishers, where a portion of advertising revenue would be shared when content from these publishers is used. This approach aims to create a mutually beneficial relationship between Perplexity and content creators.

As discussions about AI’s impact on content creation and journalism continue, Perplexity AI’s experience underscores the complex balance between technological innovation and ethical responsibility. The company’s ability to address these challenges and build trust with both users and content creators will be crucial for its future success.

Sources

Associated Press: https://apnews.com/article/perplexity-ai-search-engine-forbes-f307cb607f0db871b05f843a3f744340
Wired: https://www.wired.com/story/perplexity-plagiarized-our-story-about-how-perplexity-is-a-bullshit-machine/
The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2024/06/28/amazon-perplexity-online-content-scraping-investigation/0b5fa96e-3593-11ef-872a-1d22f44a0d95_story.html

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  1. Thank you for the interesting article.

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