ChatGPT has been getting a lot of attention lately, as people use it for everything from writing code to poetry. It and other artificial intelligence programs are also being used to write news stories, especially those that rely on an easily defined set of facts, like sports recaps.
We wanted to see how ChatGPT would do with a straightforward consumer protection story, so we asked it to write a story about negative option – i.e., self-renewing – contracts.
Here's what it came up with:
Negative Option Contracts: The Hidden Trap That's Costing Consumers Millions
A growing number of consumers are falling victim to the hidden trap of negative option contracts. These contracts, which are commonly offered by subscription-based businesses, allow companies to automatically renew or send products to consumers on a regular basis, unless the consumers opt out.
However, many customers are unaware that they have signed up for such contracts and are being charged for products they never intended to purchase. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that it has received thousands of complaints about negative option contracts in recent years, with consumers losing millions of dollars.
"Negative option contracts are designed to take advantage of consumers' forgetfulness or inaction," says FTC Chairman Joe Simons. "Consumers should be cautious when signing up for any service that automatically renews or sends products without their explicit consent."
The FTC advises consumers to carefully read the terms and conditions of any agreement before signing up for a subscription-based service. Consumers should also keep track of their recurring charges and regularly review their bank and credit card statements to ensure they are not being charged for unwanted products.
In response to growing concerns about negative option contracts, several states have passed laws to protect consumers. The FTC is also working with Congress to develop federal legislation that would require companies to obtain explicit consent from consumers before enrolling them in negative option contracts.
In the meantime, consumers are encouraged to be vigilant and take steps to protect themselves from falling victim to the hidden trap of negative option contracts.
A passing grade
The result: not bad, not bad at all. The ChatGPT story is a classic example of a skillful rewrite. It gathered the requisite information, shuffled it around a bit and spit it back out in a new form.
Admittedly, it didn't add anything new, didn't find any secret documents or track down an expert and get a juicy quote but it did about as well as any rewrite desk would be expected to do.
It didn't get everything quite right either. Most notably, Joe Simons is not the FTC chair. He held the job from May 2018 through January 2021. Minor detail but if ChatGPT were human, he (it? they?) would get yelled at by one or more editors.
This is, in fact, a classic example of poor fact-checking and can lead to big trouble. Every now and then, some hapless scribe writes about someone who is deceased as though they still walked the earth. (There are also instances of accidentally killing off someone who is in fact not dead but this is a bit more than an oversight and can cause really serious repercussions).
Journalism, of course, is more than rewriting known facts, or at least it's supposed to be. But rewrites that tie together information in a new form serve a valuable function and having a tool that can do them quickly and accurately is good news for publishers.
Whether it's good news for aspiring journalists is another story.