Morality And Legality In Perplexity’s New Search Engine

As AI finds a place for itself in the new age, Perplexity finds itself trying to stand above the competition by pulling some tight strings.

Business Lifestyle
AI sits ready at the computer ready to return search results.

With the rise of AI and the uncertainty of its place in the future, Perplexity is attempting to create a Google Search competitor. However, Perplexity isn’t making a typical search engine like Google. It intends to create an answer engine. Rather than having you, the searcher, sift through many different results; Perplexity will find the one result you need and deliver it to you. But where do the results come from, and how does Perplexity get the information?

Perplex Perplexity Issues

On the surface, Perplexity sounds like a fantastic tool to have. It saves time by providing the answer rather than having the searcher look through various websites and forums. However, this detracts from Google’s original purpose. Using Google, a person is directed to another website which sends traffic to those sites. This generates ad revenue for the site and might even garner an interest in everything the website offers.

A robot hand holds a light bulb in front of a blackboard full of math equations.
IMAGE VIA CANVA

Take Bookstr, for example. If a person were to find this website through a Google search, they would see how amazing it is and might dig deeper through it to find all kinds of fun and exciting things. It’s through these searches that websites like Bookstr find growth. Perplexity’s answer engine tool becomes a middle-man between the searcher and these websites. It takes away traffic from the website and can’t help further grow these sites.

Understanding Perplexity

To call Perplexity a leech of ad revenue would be a somewhat accurate representation. As mentioned before, Google directs a searcher to a website, which helps that website’s growth. Perplexity, however, takes searchers to its site where it can increase its ad revenue while cutting out the website the AI took the information from. Perplexity creates a summary that rips information from websites across the internet and does not credit the original writers. Surprisingly, Perplexity can even dodge an article’s paywall and offer the information for free.

Computers are all connected together with the world itself being the connecting point.
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To make a long story short, websites have a small text file called robots.txt, which tells the internet who is allowed on the site and who isn’t. It’s mostly used for search engines and archival projects. This began in 1994 as a sort of gentleman’s agreement. There isn’t a law regarding the robots.txt file. Companies can ignore the wishes of a website’s robots.txt file without facing any repercussions. Perplexity CEO Aravind Srinivas claimed they weren’t ignoring the files but were using third-party scrapers that did ignore the files. He also refused to name these third-party scrapers. In other words, don’t worry about it. They aren’t breaking the gentleman’s code of robots.txt if someone else is. Duh!

There has been a recent surge in AI giants, and they all seem to be edging the line of legality and morality to come out on top. Perplexity isn’t the only one doing this. However, Perplexity is trying to become a middle-man for search engines and removing much-needed ad revenue. They also use “third-party scrapers” to avoid dirtying their hands by avoiding robots.txt. It seems that Perplexity, in its quest to become a search answer engine, instead became a selfish and trust-breaking software.


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