Early Apple tech bloggers are shocked to find their name and work have been AI-zombified

July 10, 2024
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An old Apple blog and the blog’s former authors have become the latest victims of AI-written sludge. TUAW (“The Unofficial Apple Weblog”) was shut down by AOL in 2015, but this past year, a new owner scooped up the domain and began posting articles under the bylines of former writers who haven’t worked there for over a decade. And that new owner, which also appears to run other AI sludge websites, seems to be trying to hide.

Christina Warren, who left a long career in tech journalism to join Microsoft and later GitHub as a developer advocate, shared screenshots of what was happening on Tuesday. In the images, you can see that Warren has apparently been writing new posts as of this July — even though she hasn’t worked at TUAW since 2009, she confirms to The Verge.

Another screenshot showed Warren’s name listed next to what appears to be an AI-generated photo and a generic bio, alongside a list of other former TUAW writers, including Brett Terpstra, Chris Rawson, and Chris Ullrich. All of the listed authors have had their photos replaced with AI-generated images, 404 Media reports, and many tell 404 that they have no involvement with the new website. AppleInsider confirmed that its author William Gallagher’s name was inappropriately attached to content by TUAW’s new owner as well.

What’s more, it appears the new TUAW is using generative AI to sloppily recreate the work of its former writers.

According to TUAW’s “About Us” page, TUAW is now apparently owned by Web Orange Limited, which bought the website “without its original content” from “Yahoo IP Holdings LLC” earlier this year.

So, instead of that “original content,” the new TUAW has seemingly used AI to plagiarize it — as you can easily see by comparing actual archived TUAW posts at Engadget to ones on the new website.

For example, take an extremely benign post about changes to the iOS keyboard’s shift key in iOS 7.1. Here’s the first paragraph from Erica Sadun’s original “iOS 7.1’s new shift key icons are rad”:

Today, as 7.1 rolled in, major complainage could be heard echoing through the TUAW back channels. “OMG,” the afflicted cried, “The world is at an end — Apple has redesigned the shift key icons!” Our very own Dave Caolo even wrote about the change, saying that “It’s a good change overall but will take some getting used to.”

On the new TUAW? It has a different headline, “iOS 7.1 Update Introduces Cool New Shift Key Icons,” a new author, “Matthew Wilson,” and an intro that reads as if the same words were run through a thesaurus:

As version 7.1 was unveiled today, there was a noticeable stir among the TUAW team. “OMG,” they exclaimed, “The end is nigh — Apple has revamped the shift key icons!” Our colleague Dave Caolo commented on the update, noting, “It’s a positive adjustment but it’ll require some getting used to.”

An image slider showing TUAW’s archive on Engadget (left) vs. the version on TUAW now (right).

Warren says she’s well aware of zombie brands but that she’s still genuinely shocked that a shady new website owner would go so far as to steal writers’ identities, too.

“I thought the worst thing that could happen would be like with MTV News where the archives just go away, but I was faced with this paradox where what’s worse than not having any archive at all is this bastardized version, this weird zombie corpse of a thing that looks like what it was but isn’t,she tells The Verge.

“I was like, ‘Fuck you, genuinely fuck you.’ You can quote me on that.” — Christina Warren

TUAW’s new owner isn’t entirely trying to hide what they’ve done: “With a commitment to revitalize its legacy, the new team at Web Orange Limited meticulously rewrote the content from archived versions available on archive.org, ensuring the preservation of TUAW’s rich history while updating it to meet modern standards and relevance,” the new TUAW’s “About Us” page says. We’ve reached out to Apollo Management Group, which purchased Yahoo’s assets in 2021, to better understand what Web Orange acquired.

But the new TUAW has apparently decided not all of its copying is justified, either. Since Warren’s posts — she tells us she also sent a “firmly worded email” threatening legal action— her author name on the new TUAW has been changed to “Mary Brown.” Similarly, Brett Terpstra is now “Paul Terpstra,” Chris Dawson is now “Kevin Hall,” and Chris Ullrich is “Matthew Wilson.”

On its website, Web Orange Limited describes itself as “an online advertising agency” based in Hong Kong that manages “some of the largest media sites on the internet,” including iLounge, another older Apple blog.

iLounge, too, has resurfaced as a site appearing to host AI sludge masquerading as the work of humans. We discovered the profile pictures of its most prominent “authors” are stock images.

The above image of Lucy Bennett, for example, has also appeared on an iPhone case and as a model for an online dating website:

We found that iLounge writer Samantha Wiley — who also has a stock image as a profile pic — published three posts in three minutes earlier today. Wiley’s author page shows many instances of Wiley publishing multiple posts in an extremely short amount of time. Not unusual if you’re a writer with multiple embargoes, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Bennett and Wiley also have X accounts that only follow iLounge and contain no posts. (They also have similar X usernames: “editorlucyb” and “editorwiley.”)

Both also have Muck Rack profiles that claim they’ve worked for other publications, but we found no evidence of Wiley writing for The Baltimore Post or Houston Press as stated. We’re reaching out to Muck Rack for comment.

Samantha Wiley is an incredibly speedy writer.
Screenshot by The Verge

Soup.io, another Web Orange website, has a “Jorgie Soto” whose stock image profile pic was once seen advertising VoIP services:

Until today, iLounge’s own about page identified its owner, and the owner of Web Orange Limited, as Haider Ali Khan, a “well-known Australian entrepreneur, investor, author, and cyber security expert.” However, that page has now been scrubbed of all mentions of Khan, and the personal website for Khan that worked yesterday now displays an error message. The owner of the website did not reply to our email. Khan’s name has been scrubbed from other Web Orange websites as well.

A screencap from a personal website for Khan that is no longer accessible.
Screenshot by The Verge

We have not yet positively linked a Haider Ali Khan to a “Web Orange Limited,” but there is a company registered in Hong Kong by that name. Khan’s personal website also stated he launched a web hosting company called Sudoly, though, which has since been rebranded to OrangeHost, a company that currently lists Haider Ali Kahn as CEO. OrangeHost’s Haider Ali Kahn is in Dubai, according to his LinkedIn page. But OrangeHost is a US company registered in Delaware, we confirmed.

Web Orange Limited also says it has also worked with companies like Avast, Adobe, Cloudways, ExpressVPN, and Hostinger, and we’ve reached out to them for comment on how they worked with the company.

Warren says she’s feeling relieved that her and her TUAW colleagues’ names no longer appear on the new TUAW website, and she no longer thinks she’ll need to get a lawyer involved. “What really made me angry was attributing net new content to these authors. That was the thing I didn’t expect.”

“The plagiarism… I don’t love it, but at the same time, you have to choose your battles,” she says.

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