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The Prisoner’s Dilemma — Is Google “Stealing” The Content of Bloggers?

  • 9 min read

Google’s response is unexpected and possibly diverging from what you’d anticipate.

People plan their travel via search. You surely know this.

I used to be a travel blogger and I spent so much time taking photos of all the places I visited and writing about my adventures, the people I met, and things I explored.

I still remember doing my happy dance when I ranked #1 with a travel story about the “Petite Provence”— a giant purple lavender field with yellow butterflies.

Here's the kicker. This field wasn’t in France. It was in Germany where I live.

Back then, discovering this unique place was a true sensation and Google rewarded me and my husband with being on the first page of Google.

With that story shared you can imagine how shocked I was when I read on X that full-time travel blogger Nate Hake from “Travel Lemming —Travel guides by locals and experts” accused Google of “stealing” his and his creator family’s content in a new Google search format powered by AI.

As a blogger myself, I found this particularly offensive at a gut level and I wasn’t alone. Nate got about 150,000 views and hundreds of shares and comments on X.

Here’s his tweet with a screenshot I’m referring to:

photo credit: Nate Hake, Travel Lemming on X with a viral thread

What happened to travel blogger Nate Hake?

When he googled “things to do in Denver” he found pictures from his original blog post/s.

In one of them about “Red Rocks” you could even see Nate. That’s the one.

photo credit: Nate Hake, Travel Lemming on X with a viral thread

He found what he called an “AI answer” and rich results that re-created an entire blog post based on his content plus images.

He tried “Mexico Travel Tips” and got similar results:

photo credit: Nate Hake, Travel Lemming on X with a viral thread

Google showed an AI answer that extracted the main points of his top-ranking blog posts and showed images he and his travel blogger family made.

Is this legal?

So he wondered if it was legal to create entire blog posts from the creator’s content and pictures. Even with a law degree, he wasn’t sure.

“I literally have a law degree from the top law school in the world, and even I can’t figure it out! Fair use does NOT apply if you’re using the content to compete directly against the creator, which they clearly are. I can’t sit outside a movie theatre, project the movie on a wall, earn money from it, and claim fair use.”

He emphasized that it took him and his partner more than ten days to take photos and hundreds of dollars for gas, parking, and attraction admission fees.

Enough is enough?

In his thread on X Natan explained everything that’s wrong with this new AI-driven search result:

  • With the help of AI Google is writing entire blog posts and directly competing against bloggers/writers/creators
  • SERPs (search engine results pages) are taken over “by parasites, giant publications with generic fluffy content, and decade-old forum posts. That seems to be half of where the lost clicks are going.”
  • Google keeps searchers from clicking through which is shown in reduced click-outs to creators.
  • no sufficient credit
  • no benefits for the blogger
  • AI is used to compete against bloggers
  • it’s not a fair and open marketplace otherwise “search engines would already be competing for the exclusive licensing rights to using creators’ work in their AI results.”
  • “it is a prisoner’s dilemma as long as Google has a monopoly on search”

In fact, Google has a monopoly in search and wants to remain #1. Recently it was revealed that in 2021 Google paid Apple alone over USD 18 Billion to be the default search engine in iOS.

In Nate’s words:

“Google is the single bouncer guarding the door that 97% of people use for the Internet. We can’t pretend Google doesn’t exist.”

So Nate asked his X fam:

“How much does Google get to take before creators say “enough is enough”? How hard does the water have to boil before the frog jumps?”

Guess what happened next and what makes this story so interesting.

Dan Sullivan from Google’s Search Liaison responded by explaining the situation.

Google’s response was unexpected, possibly diverging from what publishers and SEOs had anticipated

From the official account of Google Search Liaison Dan Sullivan who used to be a publisher himself answered sympathetically:

photo credit: Nate Hake, Travel Lemming on X with a viral thread

In brief, Sullivan clarified that the comprehensive rich result, which incorporates all of the publisher’s content, also includes a hyperlink leading back to the publisher’s website.

photo credit: Nate Hake, Travel Lemming on X with a viral thread

Demonstrating wisdom, Danny refrained from asserting Google’s correctness, opting instead for a sympathetic response to the publisher’s situation.

Many bloggers have given up

Within his conversation with Sullivan, he also pointed out a trend. A shocking trend.

If you’re in writing groups on Quora, Reddit, or Facebook you might have already heard of it but while everyone says it’s the golden era for writers many genuine creators quit.

Why?

Their click, revenus, and livelihood decimated over the past months.

Nate also highlights:

“Many more have turned to cheap AI content instead, as that seems to be what is being rewarded.”

I also read several Medium stories where bloggers shared how AI can help them with optimized articles. Of course, AI can help because as a robot it’s talking to another robot.

“Those of us trying to still do content “for people, by people” feel extremely lonely and forgotten” Hake told Sullivan from Google Search Liaison.

Is the future of Google = AI?

Hake’s right about content from people for people. That’s what Google has been emphasizing throughout the last past years and with every new update.

This year, we saw Google publicly positioning itself as an AI company.

Google is creating a new AI-focused ecosystem.

They say the future of the internet will “all be mediated through AI assistants”.

Nate from Travel Lemming added:

“Every single one of Google’s investor AI presentations shows off a travel example. Every single one! Google shows how in the future, you expect people to plan their trips using conversational interfaces with your AI. And your presentations have also suggested this is going to be based off information and opinions that were extracted from us creators.

Bloggers are missing direction and want to get compensated

It’s not like Google is giving bloggers and creators any direction.

They are “not communicating what we can expect as creators in this AI assistant future”. Or, when Google does “communicate, it doesn’t match what we see being rewarded”.

Plus, bloggers are longing for meaningful compensation for all the sweat, money, and time they put into this human content.

“(…)we deserve meaningful compensation when it is used to generate revenue — especially when it is used to compete against ourselves, or to power your AI assistants of the future. Something like a Youtube style rev share program maybe? Meaningful consent. Meaningful compensation. That’s what’s missing. And, really, this feels like a severe violation of both of those.”

Fight to keep creating

Dan Sullivan responded one more time to Nate emphasizing that Google is supporting bloggers — especially those who create quality content that is ranking in the top results and people love to read:

photo credit: Nate Hake, Travel Lemming on X with a viral thread

I still like Google’s mission to make search better so that people get the results they are looking for.

However while there may be a legal definition allowing Google to use website content in a way that might appear as “stealing” content to outrank the publisher, there’s also a subjective sense of fairness that many publishers feel when Google seems to benefit more from their content than the publishers themselves.

This situation raises the question of whether just because you have the legal right to do something, does it mean you should do it.

Let’s conclude with Nate’s words:

“It’s nice to be heard! And thank you for staying such a class act even in the face of my frustration at the corporation. I am frustrated because I care. Particularly about these folks, our amazing & deserving human creators. I’m fighting to keep them creating. Thank you again.”

What’s your opinion?

A — It seems like Google can’t grow market share anymore, so it’s turned to squeezing everything it can out of SERPs by keeping searchers on Google.

B — I simply wonder: Where does that leave us bloggers? What role do we play as bloggers in the future?

C — Don’t rely on Google — build your own brand.

D — Google should communicate more!

E — Creators deserve meaningful consent over how their content is used.

F — We need a YouTube-style revenue model!


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