Leading British news outlet The Guardian has slammed Microsoft, accusing the company of causing reputational harm. The accusation is centered around an AI-generated poll Microsoft published, which speculated on the cause of a woman's death. The poll, seen as highly inappropriate, was placed next to a Guardian article about the same incident.
Unapproved AI Application Steers Controversy
Microsoft Start, the company's news aggregation service, employed automated technology to create a poll related to the death of Lilie James, a 21-year-old water polo coach who died tragically in Sydney. The poll inquired about the assumed cause of James's death, offering three speculative choices: murder, accident, or suicide. The Guardian was quick to dissociate itself from the highly criticized survey, which has caused considerable outrage from readers and has been eventually removed.
Microsoft Start is a dedicated news feed that is personalized to the specific user, similar to the MSN feed in Microsoft News. In fact, Start is a rebranding of these tools, effectively replacing Microsoft News and becoming available in the Microsoft Start menu.
Call for Responsible AI Use in Journalism
Anna Bateson, Chief Executive Officer of the Guardian Media Group, voiced her strong concerns directly to Microsoft's president, Brad Smith, in a letter. She outlined the distressing impact the poll could have on the deceased's family, and the reputational harm it brought to The Guardian and its journalists.
Bateson reiterated that this incident underscores the urgent need for responsible use of Generative AI technology and emphasized the crucial role of copyright frameworks. She called for formal assurances from Microsoft to seek their approval before employing AI technology with Guardian journalism and to clearly distinguish when AI tools are used to generate additional content.
As digital technology increasingly merges with journalism, Bateson suggested that large tech platforms like Microsoft should prioritize credible information, equitable rewards for licensing journalism, and greater AI transparency for customers.