The most downloaded news app in America with ties to China highlights dangers of AI

The most downloaded news app in America with ties to China highlights dangers of AI

NewsBreak's AI-generated fake news raises concerns over misinformation

by Kurt Knutsson

NewsBreak is one of the most downloaded news apps in the US, with over 50 million monthly users. However, according to a Reuters report, the company is spreading misinformation through artificial intelligence (AI)-generated content. The report also highlights that NewsBreak has roots in China, with its technology being maintained in Beijing and receiving funding from a Chinese company that allegedly works for the country’s military.

Credit: Google Play

 

How NewsBreak is misusing AI

The Reuters report highlighted many instances where NewsBreak used AI to generate news that never actually happened. For instance, last Christmas Eve, it published an alarming piece about a small-town shooting. It was headlined “Christmas Day Tragedy Strikes Bridgeton, New Jersey Amid Rising Gun Violence in Small Towns.”

However, no such incident happened. The Bridgeton, New Jersey police department posted a statement on Facebook on December 27 dismissing the article—produced using AI technology—as “entirely false.”

NewsBreak doesn’t write all of its articles. The company is a distributor that publishes licensed content from outlets like Reuters, Fox, CNN, and AP. Some of its articles are also sourced using information available on the internet and through paraphrasing press releaseA person reading on a tablet

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How NewsBreak’s automated content disrupted local communities

According to a Reuters investigation, there have been at least 40 instances since 2021 where NewsBreak’s use of AI tools has affected communities. The app has published erroneous stories, created 10 stories from local news sites under fictitious bylines, and lifted content from its competitors. Two local community programs assisting disadvantaged people were impacted by erroneous stories produced by NewsBreak’s AI.

This year, in January, February, and March, a Colorado-based food bank, Food to Power, had to turn people away because NewsBreak stated incorrect times for food distributions. The charity complained to NewsBreak in a January 30 email to the company’s general customer support address but received no response. Harvest912, a charity in Erie, Pennsylvania, reported a similar incident.

Norm Pearlstine, former Executive Editor at the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, worked as a consultant for NewsBreak. He told Reuters that the company also tried to create fake accounts to access content that publishers had put behind paywalls.

A computer kept on a table with a display showing a news article.

 

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NewsBreak’s China connection

NewsBreak advertises itself as a US-based and US-invested startup, but the company has its roots in China. It was founded in 2015 by Jeff Zheng, who currently serves as the CEO of NewsBreak. Zheng is also the founder of the Chinese news aggregation app Yidian. In fact, the two companies share a U.S. patent, registered in 2015, for an “Interest Engine” algorithm, which recommends news content based on a user’s interests and location.

Until 2019, NewsBreak was a subsidiary of Yidian, and the Chinese news aggregation company referred to NewsBreak as its US version until 2021, according to The Wire China. Plus, one of NewsBreak’s primary backers is Beijing-based IDG Capital, which is on a list of dozens of Chinese companies the Pentagon alleges are working with the Chinese military. It is important to note that there’s no evidence that NewsBreak censored or produced news favorable to the Chinese government.

We reached out to Newsbreak for comment on this article and have not heard back as of our deadline.

 

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4 ways to protect yourself from misinformation

The growing use of AI means the internet is now harder than ever to navigate. Follow these steps to protect yourself from misinformation.

1) Verify sources: Check the credibility of the source. Look for news from reputable organizations with a track record of accuracy and accountability. Verify the information across multiple trusted sources before believing or sharing it.

2) Check the author: Investigate the author of the content. Ensure they are credible and have the necessary expertise or background. Be wary of articles without author bylines.

3) Use fact-checking tools: Use fact-checking websites and tools like Snopes, FactCheck.org, or the International Fact-Checking Network to verify dubious claims. These resources can help you determine the accuracy of the information.

4) Be skeptical of social media: Take information on social media with a grain of salt. Platforms like Facebook, X, and Instagram can be breeding grounds for misinformation. Verify the information from reliable sources before sharing or believing it. Be particularly cautious of viral content and consider the potential biases of those sharing it.

 

Kurt’s key takeaways

The internet has always been a breeding ground for misinformation, but now that news media publications have started using AI to generate content, misinformation is at its peak. The NewsBreak incident is one of the many that have come to light in recent years, and it’s only an indication of what we are about to witness. It’s important that you take your dose of news from reliable sources. You can always trust me for tech-related news, but for other content, make sure you verify the sources.

As we navigate the digital age with AI, what responsibilities do platforms like NewsBreak have in combating the spread of misinformation? Let us know in the comments below. 

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