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Tumblr and WordPress posts will reportedly be used for OpenAI and Midjourney training

Parent company Automattic allegedly included private data in its first batch.

Andrew Burton via Getty Images

Tumblr and WordPress are reportedly set to strike deals to sell user data to artificial intelligence companies OpenAI and Midjourney. 404 Media reports that the platforms’ parent company, Automattic, is nearing completion of an agreement to provide data to help train the AI companies’ models.

It isn’t clear which data will be included, but the report suggests Automattic may have overreached initially. An alleged internal post from Tumblr product manager Cyle Gage suggests Automattic prepared to send private or partner-related data that wasn’t supposed to be included in the deal. The questionable content reportedly included private posts on public blog posts, deleted or suspended blogs, unanswered (therefore, not publicly posted) questions, private answers, posts marked explicit and content from premium partner blogs (like Apple’s former music site).

The internal post suggests Automattic’s engineers are preparing a list of post IDs that should have been excluded. It isn’t clear whether the data had already been sent to the AI companies.

Engadget emailed Automattic to ask for comment on the report. The company replied with a published statement, claiming, “We will share only public content that’s hosted on WordPress.com and Tumblr from sites that haven’t opted out.” The statement notes that legal regulations don’t currently require AI companies’ web crawlers to abide by users’ opt-out preferences.

The final line of Automattic’s statement appears to align with the reported deals. “We are also working directly with select AI companies as long as their plans align with what our community cares about: attribution, opt-outs, and control,” Automattic wrote. “Our partnerships will respect all opt-out settings. We also plan to take that a step further and regularly update any partners about people who newly opt out and ask that their content be removed from past sources and future training.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: Sam Altman speaks onstage during A Year In TIME at The Plaza Hotel on December 12, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for TIME)
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (Mike Coppola via Getty Images)

The company reportedly plans to launch a new opt-out tool on Wednesday that claims to allow users to block third parties — including AI companies — from training on their data. 404 Media reviewed an alleged internal FAQ Automattic prepared for the tool, which includes the answer, “If you opt out from the start, we will block crawlers from accessing your content by adding your site on a disallowed list. If you change your mind later, we also plan to update any partners about people who newly opt-out and ask that their content be removed from past sources and future training.”

The phrasing, describing it as “asking” the AI companies to remove the data, may be relevant.

An alleged internal document from Automattic’s AI head, Andrew Spittle, replying to a staff question about data-removal assurances when using the tool, explains, “We will notify existing partners on a regular basis about anyone who’s opted out since the last time we provided a list. I want this to be an ongoing process where we regularly advocate for past content to be excluded based on current preferences. We will ask that content be deleted and removed from any future training runs. I believe partners will honor this based on our conversations with them to this point. I don’t think they gain much overall by retaining it.”

So, if a Tumblr or WordPress user requests to opt out of AI training, Automattic will allegedly “ask” and “advocate for” their removal. And the company’s AI boss “believes” the AI companies will find it in their best interest to comply “based on our conversations.” (How’s that for reassurance!)

AI data training deals have become a lucrative opportunity for websites treading water in today’s slippery online publishing landscape. (Tumblr’s staff was reportedly reduced to a skeleton crew in late 2023.) Last week, Google struck a deal with Reddit (ahead of the latter’s IPO) to train on the platform’s vast knowledge base of user-created content. Meanwhile, OpenAI rolled out a partnership program last year to collect datasets from third parties to help train its AI models.

Update, February 27, 2024, 3:56 PM ET: This story has been updated to add a published statement from WordPress and Tumblr parent company Automattic.