Microsoft Start automated poll damages Guardian reputation

Occurred: October 2023

An AI-generated poll accompanying a article republished on Microsoft's Start news aggregation website about a woman's death led to accusations of crass insensivity, and led The Guardian to complain it had damaged its reputation.

The poll asked readers to speculate on the reason for the woman's death, which occurred at a school in Melbourne, Australia, asking them whether the woman had died by suicide, murder, or accident. In a disclaimer, the tech company noted the poll was part of it's 'Insights from AI.' But readers assumed The Guardian was responsible for the tool, one calling it 'pathetic' and 'disgusting', amongst other things.

In a letter (pdf) to Microsoft chairman Brad Smith, Guardian Media Group CEO Anna Bateson demanded the technology company take public responsibility for the poll, saying 'This is clearly an inappropriate use of genAI by Microsoft on a potentially distressing public interest story, originally written and published by Guardian journalists.'

Microsoft eventually removed the poll and turned off comments for the article, adding 'A poll should not have appeared alongside an article of this nature, and we are taking steps to help prevent this kind of error from reoccurring in the future.' 

Operator: Microsoft
Developer: Microsoft
Country: UK; USA
Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts
Purpose: Generate polls
Technology: Machine learning
Issue: Appropriateness/need
Transparency: Governance

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: November 2023