Google looks to AI paywall option – report

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Google logo at California officeImage source, Reuters

Google, the search engine used by more than a billion people around the world, is reported to be considering charging for premium content generated by artificial intelligence (AI).

The company, owned by Alphabet Inc, is said to be revamping its business model and looking at putting some of its core product behind a paywall.

It would be the first time Google had charged for any of its content.

Google said it did not have anything to announce “right now”.

According to the Financial Times (FT) it is said to be looking at whether to add certain AI-powered search features to its premium subscription services which already offer access to its new AI assistant called Gemini, Google’s version of the viral chatbot ChatGPT.

Executives have reportedly not yet made a decision when or whether to move ahead with the technology but the FT said engineers were developing the know-how needed to deploy the service.

Google’s traditional search engine would remain free of charge but would continue to appear with ads alongside searched-for content, which subscribers would also see, the FT said.

Google has faced challenges coming to grips with the AI revolution – earlier this year Gemini, which can answer questions in text form but also generate pictures in response to text prompts, stoked controversy after it mistakenly created an image of the US Founding Fathers including a black man.

It also generated German soldiers from World War Two, incorrectly featuring a black man and an Asian woman.

Google apologised and immediately “paused” the tool, saying it was “missing the mark”.

However, the company is still number one for the majority of internet users when it comes to searching for information.

According to the global market research company Statista, Google has dominated the desktop search engine market since 2015 with a solid 80%+ of internet users. Various websites suggest it has more than a billion daily users.

The majority of Google’s revenues are generated through advertising. Its parent company, Alphabet, is one of the biggest internet companies worldwide with a 2023 valuation of $1.6tn (£1.26tn), according to Statista.

But it has diversified and now offers mail, productivity tools, enterprise products and mobile devices, among other ventures, and in 2023 it earned revenues of approximately $305.6bn (£241bn)

In a statement issued to the BBC, Google said it was “not working on or considering an ad-free search experience”.

“As we’ve done many times before, we’ll continue to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google,” the search giant said. “We don’t have anything to announce right now.”

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