OpenAI has disabled Bing browsing from the premium version of ChatGPT.
“Browse with Bing” was added to ChatGPT exclusively for Plus subscribers, enabling the AI to browse the internet for up-to-date information.
This was announced by Microsoft at its annual developer conference, Build 2023, in May. The objective was to enhance the chatbot’s ability to use Bing’s search index. Otherwise, ChatGPT’s knowledge can only access information up to September 2021. The Bing feature offered access to current search results.
To be fair, the feature never worked particularly well. In May, when the tool was released, ChatGPT users flocked to Reddit to complain. Namely, it was unreliable searching the web, took too long to work, and failed to retrieve data correctly.
One user exclaimed, “ChatGPT sucks browsing the web. This tool is totally useless crap. For now, we’re safe from AI taking over.”
So why did ChatGPT pull Browse?
Users found a loophole allowing them to bypass paywalls with the aid of the chatbot. They could ask ChatGPT to ‘print’ premium content, or in OpenAI’s words, “if a user specifically asks for a URL’s full text, it might inadvertently fulfill this request.”
In response, OpenAI suspended the Browse with Bing beta feature on July 3, 2023. OpenAI stated, “As of July 3, 2023, we’ve disabled the Browse with Bing beta feature out of an abundance of caution while we fix this in order to do right by content owners. We are working to bring the beta back as quickly as possible, and appreciate your understanding!”
We’ve learned that ChatGPT’s “Browse” beta can occasionally display content in ways we don’t want, e.g. if a user specifically asks for a URL’s full text, it may inadvertently fulfill this request. We are disabling Browse while we fix this—want to do right by content owners.
— OpenAI (@OpenAI) July 4, 2023
Paywalls enable online publishers to generate revenue through subscriptions by restricting public access to content.
Some users on the r/ChatGPT Reddit community discovered a way to navigate around these paywalls, accessing information without a subscription. Of course, any such loophole is bound to get exploited, and OpenAI is already facing extreme pressure over copyright issues and associated lawsuits.
OpenAI has not yet disclosed when the feature will be reinstated. Meanwhile, Elon Musk limited how many tweets users can read in a bid to temporarily restrict web crawlers.
Web crawlers are automated bots that browse and extract internet content – they can also scrape public data for AI training datasets. Companies like Twitter and Reddit own colossal volumes of useful data that they don’t want AI companies to swipe without paying.
The politics of web crawling have always been complex. When is content deemed ‘public?’ How do owners reliably restrict their content from being used for AI training?
In any case, enabling ChatGPT to bypass paywalls is a risk OpenAI doesn’t want to take.