Popular US news app accused of using AI to make up fake stories

NewsBreak has been publishing erroneous stories since 2021, according to Reuters.

Maria Korneeva via Getty Images

NewsBreak, a popular free news app in the US, has been publishing fictitious stories written by AI since 2021, according to Reuters. The app publishes licensed content from legitimate news sources, such as CNN, AP and Reuters itself, but it also uses artificial intelligence tools to rewrite press releases and local news. One of the most egregious examples of a false news story by NewsBreak was published on Christmas Eve last year. The app's writeup claimed that there was a shooting in Bridgeton, New Jersey when no such incident took place.

New Jersey's police department dismissed the claims made in the article before the app, which said it got the information from another website, took it down four days later. In January, February and March, a Colorado-based food bank told Reuters that it had to turn people away because NewsBreak published the wrong time for food distribution. It also received no response from the company when it complained about its inaccurate reporting.

Another charity in Pennsylvania said NewsBreak published a report, twice, that claimed it was holding a 24-hour foot-care clinic for homeless people when it wasn't. The app removed all the false stories involving the charities after Reuters notified it. In March, it added a warning on its homepage that says its content "may not always be error-free," as well. Aside from publishing erroneous stories, NewsBreak allegedly copied articles from websites without permission and had previously settled copyright infringement cases with at least two publications. Reuters describes NewsBreak as the "most downloaded US news app." If you haven't heard of it before, that's probably because its users are predominantly women above the age of 45, who don't have college degrees and who live in suburban and rural US. It's known for posting links on social networks like Facebook, and clicking on one will prompt you to download the app.

NewsBreak, which is only available in the US, launched in the country as a subsidiary of China-based company Yidian, which is partly owned by a Chinese state-linked media firm. Yidian is no longer connected with the app, but one of its primary investors is IDG Capital, a Beijing-based company that the Pentagon says is affiliated (PDF) with the Chinese military.

Former employees told Reuters that NewsBreak's China-based engineers do most of the work on its algorithms, even though the app presents itself as a US-based company with US investors. NewsBreak CEO Jeff Zheng told Reuters that it complies with US data and privacy laws and that it's maintained on Amazon servers based in the United States. Its Chinese staff, Zheng said, can only access anonymous data stored on those servers. It's worth noting that despite its connection to China, Reuters didn't find evidence that NewsBreak has published stories that showed the Chinese government in a positive light.