Google’s Note To Self: Section 230 Saved You Before With YouTube, But May Not For AI | Commentary

Google may have just opened a Pandora’s box with its new “AI Overviews” feature, the company’s new AI generated one paragraph summaries that now appear first in its search results. The reigning champ of search rushed it into the AI market – and fell flat on its face – in an attempt to beat back AI market leader OpenAI/Microsoft and new competitors like highly touted Perplexity. It was yet another in a continuing string of baffling generative AI gaffes (remember its “woke” Gemini image generating launch?) that certainly didn’t build confidence in its brand, which arguably has stifled search innovation for decades.

Apart from Google’s feature not being ready for prime time – it suggested eating rocks to get your daily protein fix in one highly publicized amusing example – it also potentially exposes the search giant to massive legal liability. Imagine users taking Google AI Overviews’ advice literally and eating those rocks (or taking whatever other actions based on AI Overviews that are plainly wrong, which they reportedly frequently are), because some users most certainly will.

Google itself touted the fact that users no longer would need to scroll through traditional search results when it introduced AI Overviews, literally saying “let Google do the Googling for you.” So if Google tells its users to buy what it’s selling and they understandably let go of the reins, why shouldn’t they be able to go after the search giant for the damage caused by their reliance? That belief would be absolutely reasonable.

To date, Big Tech internet companies have beat back claims of legal liability for content they deliver based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Congress established that Act to take away the resource-depleting burden of policing third party content, thereby generally immunizing Big Tech from being liable for that content uploaded by users. Section 230 enabled YouTube and other social media monsters to become the juggernauts that they have – frequently much to our peril – since users upload (and consume) endless streams of unchecked content.

But with AI Overviews, Google no longer can hide under that Section 230 ruse. Now Google — through the AI technology it built — is directly responsible for the specific AI Overview content that tops its results and may, or may not, be accurate. That’s why rock eating users may have strong product liability type claims against the search giant. And that’s just one example. Imagine the endless stream of others coming down the pike, because they almost certainly will.

Google – which essentially invented generative AI – certainly has the resources to try to correct the course here. But it’s fair to ask whether it’s even possible for AI to always generate a single fully accurate response since generative AI, by its very nature, steals and “reimagines” myriad answers of the past, many of which may be unverified.

As if that’s not bad enough, Google already has been widely criticized by publishers and the creative community in general for essentially stealing their livelihoods with AI Overviews. Users are led to believe that those paragraphs – based on Google’s scraping or wide swaths of publisher content — may be all they need without the need to peruse multiple links and visit any of the third party sites that fueled them. That transformed dynamic creates a new search world order that upends the long-standing one upon which publishers relied as part of the original deal to make their content searchable. Google literally said the quiet part out loud. It essentially conceded its quest for market substitution – not particularly smart while the company finds itself under the antitrust microscope.

Google’s potentially limitless liability issue at the artificial hands of AI Overviews hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, because legal liability isn’t nearly as “sexy” as press coverage of Google blackening its eye with yet another flawed product rollout that featured amusing, yet brand bruising, “eat rocks” stories.

For Google (and all other generative AI companies), perhaps Section 230 – or lack thereof — is the headline story it should take most seriously next to copyright infringement. But judging by my recent conversation with one high level Google AI executive, I don’t think that memo has been widely received. That may be changing fast though. It was just recently reported that the number of search results that feature AI Overviews has dropped from 27% to 11% since its launch.

Google clearly has lost a step (or several) in this generative AI “spAIce race” and finds itself on its heels as it tries to catch up to Microsoft/OpenAI and others. And panicked product proliferation previously has produced pernicious product liability.

This time, Section 230 may not stop the legal liability spigot from flowing.

Reach out to Peter at For those of you interested in learning more, sign up to his “the brAIn” newsletter, visit his firm Creative Media at, and follow him on Threads @pcsathy.

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