Google Reportedly Considering Putting Some AI Search Features Behind Paywall – Investopedia

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Key Takeaways

  • Google is reportedly considering putting some of its AI-powered search features behind a paywall, while keeping its normal search engine free.
  • The possible changes reflect Google’s efforts to counter the problem of AI chatbots cutting into the advertising revenue it makes on search.
  • The move would represent Google’s first time putting its core search product behind a paywall.

Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Google is reportedly considering charging for some artificial intelligence-powered (AI) search features, in what would mark the first time the tech giant has moved its core search product behind a paywall.

Some of Google’s products have premium features like increased cloud storage or more advanced models of the Gemini AI chatbot, but selling ads has long been the primary revenue draw for its search engine. Now, the tech giant is considering trying to take advantage of its search dominance by adding certain AI search features to its existing premium subscription programs, according to a Financial Times report.

The potential changes come after more than a year of Google’s work to understand what impact AI chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT could have on Google’s search revenue, as chatbot usage could lead some people to limit or stop using Google Search, diminishing their likelihood of seeing or clicking on the ads that generate billions of dollars every year.

Some AI features have been tested with certain groups of users, like adding an AI-generated summary for a search while also displaying the same page of links and advertising underneath, but that could create a similar problem.

The AI-generated summary is more expensive to create for users, as AI models need more computing power than the normal search engine, and getting a sufficient answer from the AI summary could still mean users don’t click through to sponsored links, meaning Google could be cutting into its own revenue while providing a free service that is more expensive to operate.

Citing people familiar with the company’s thinking, the FT reported that no final decisions have been made on which tiers of the existing subscription models features will be added to, or which AI features could be added.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told the FT that the company is “not working on or considering” creating an ad-free search experience, but that it will “continue to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google.”

“For years, we’ve been reinventing Search to help people access information in the way that’s most natural to them,” Google told the FT. “With our generative AI experiments in Search, we’ve already served billions of queries, and we’re seeing positive Search query growth in all of our major markets. We’re continuing to rapidly improve the product to serve new user needs.”

Google parent Alphabet’s stock price was down about 0.9% in pre-market trading Thursday, after closing Wednesday 0.2% higher at $154.92. Shares have gained 12% so far this year, and nearly 50% in the last 12 months as it has benefitted from the AI boom.

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