Google’s AI-powered search might not be free – Quartz

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Google parent Alphabet might start charging for an AI-powered upgrade to its search engine, which would be the first time a core product from the company gets put behind a paywall.

The Financial Times, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, reports that the search giant is looking into adding AI-powered search to its premium subscription services. Google offers its Gemini AI assistant in Gmail and Docs as part of its premium subscription service.

Engineers at the company are developing technology needed for AI-powered search, The Financial Times reports, though executives haven’t decided whether or when to launch the service. Google’s traditional search engine, which is funded by advertising, would still be free, and subscribers to AI-powered search would still see ads with search results.

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Google said in a statement shared with Quartz that it is “not working on or considering” ad-free search, but that it is continuing “to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google.”

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“For years, we’ve been reinventing Search to help people access information in the way that’s most natural to them,” Google said. “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.”

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Last May, Google started experimenting with AI-powered search that provides more detailed answers and links to more information and ads, The Financial Times reports. But analysts have reportedly warned Google that its ad business could suffer from AI-powered search, because consumers wouldn’t have to go through advertisers’ websites. Online news sites and publishers could also suffer from AI-powered search because users could get direct news instead of going to news sites.

While Alphabet reported strong quarterly revenue and profits in January, the company said it will continue to cut costs in some areas of the business to invest more in AI. Throughout 2023, Alphabet cut about 4% of its workforce — about 8,000 jobs — including those in its advertising sales team.

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“We remain committed to our work to durably re-engineer our cost base as we invest to support our growth opportunities,” Ruth Porat, Alphabet president, said in the company’s quarterly earnings report.

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