Stolen content is spread across Google's Discover feed, and the technology giant couldn't care less

Stolen content is spread across Google’s Discover feed, and the technology giant couldn’t care less

Plagiarism is a serious matter, especially in journalism. But while individual writers stealing pieces of work from other creators online is a problem, it has nothing on sites like wholesale rip off countless articles, repackaging them as their own in an attempt to steal eyes and ad sales without any real manpower. Although it is difficult to stop this process from happening, it is really only a problem if a large channel such as Google starts showing these results instead of unique, original reporting. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening – and it does not seem that the company is doing much to stop it.

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The people on 9to5Google discovered stolen content from their site, our site and CNBC within Google Discover, consistently The Web Stories feature was introduced as early as 2020. If you are not familiar with Web Stories, it’s probably because you’ve become proficient at ignoring all Story-style feature attempts. This feature was Google’s knack for mixing Snapchat and news into a single product, initially launched with some major publications such as Vice and Input. Easy integration with CMS software, however, was the real attraction for Web Stories, with WordPress among the partners.

That support takes us to where we are today. Instead of filling web stories with the same large media publications that you are likely to find in Discover, Google seems to be pulling away from anyone willing to use the plugin – and increasingly it’s due to low-stakes websites dedicated to stealing content, just to get it online. In fact, in many cases these websites are specially built for only Support these web stories, clutter your Discover feed, and raise advertising money from anyone who unknowingly clicks on one.


Stolen content from The Verge, with the original section marked to the right. The entire introduction has been canceled at the wholesale level for this Web Stories post.

Personally, it did not take long for me to discover stolen content in Web Stories – in fact, the very first post that Google served me tore from The Verge. The same “Insane” publication previously discovered by 9to5 has taken to my feed, steal portions of The Verges coverage of YouTube TV’s 5.1 surround sound update. In an attempt to save the face, it omitted specific words and phrases, creating a broken mess of images that were difficult to read. But sure, these sentences match perfectly.

Another example, this time outside the world of technology. Rolling Stones review of Barry, stolen for a slide show.


Digging through the rest of the feed gave similar results. A review of Barry’s season three finale of “Harvest House” was filled with blurbs stolen from Alan Sepinwall’s review of Rolling Stone, and yet it felt like finishing with a “Brought to you by Harvest House” home screen. A page called “Google Guide” stole coverage on Meet and Duo’s merger from TheTechXP, and although they share a WordPress theme, the two do not seem to be interconnected. SlashGear and XFire were the only two sites in my feed that did not have identical articles appear on other websites; they were also the only sites that presented the author’s bylines in their coverage.

You might think that Google would care about getting this issue under control or, at the very least, saving face to see a small more innocent. While it is not necessarily the company’s fault that these stories are spamming its flow, it does build the tools that enable these effortless publications to steal content from sources such as this site. Instead, Google shifted its responsibilities back to publishers like us and issued the following statement to 9to5Google:

“Web stories are intended to reflect original works, and we encourage copyright holders to report copyright infringement. If we are notified of content that infringes someone else’s copyright, we will take appropriate action.”

Simply put, the company believes that it is up to the rights holders to search for this content, report it to Google and wait for it to be removed.

Unfortunately, without any active efforts from the search giant, it feels like this at best turns into a round of moles. Building a new plagiarism factory does not take long, and with Google’s toolkit, it’s far too easy to start spamming web stories from a new website. As it stands, the company has abandoned its Snapchat-for-news service to fall apart under the weight of low-content content and stolen material. In the end, it’s up to Google to handle this, and without any action on its part, the Discover’s Stories clone seems to be a good candidate for Killed by Google Cemetery. As it looks, not much would be lost anyway.


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