Redditors on strike but company wants OpenAI to pay up for scraping

Thousands of popular Reddit communities are now on strike. They’ve locked their doors in protest to the site’s Twitter-style decision to try and monetize access to its data. The company has its reasons, though.

On Monday, June 12th, more than 300 subreddits went “private,” preventing anyone outside the community from seeing their posts. Forums such as r/funny, r/gaming, or r/todayilearned have joined the campaign. There’s even a live stream of Reddit communities going dark.

The strike, supposed to last for at least 48 hours, has been announced in response to proposed charges for third-party app developers.

Redditors are claiming this will make the social media page inaccessible for a significant part of the user base. Obviously, the strikers hope their organized effort will prevent the new pricing from coming into force.

The problem is that Reddit was launched in 2005 but didn’t develop its own app until 2016. This meant that, for a long time, third-party apps became a popular way to access the site.

Many of them are still preferred over the official app. However, in order to access the site’s information, they need an Application Programming Interface (API), and such “premium access” will now be heavily charged, as announced by Reddit back in April.

The upcoming changes are projected to essentially kill off third-party Reddit apps such as Apollo, which lets users browse the site with a customizable interface. Such apps would need to charge about $5 a user each month simply to pay the new fees to Reddit, Apollo’s sole developer, Christian Selig, has estimated.

“Had a call with Reddit to discuss pricing,” Apollo said in a post. “Bad news for third-party apps, their announced pricing is close to Twitter’s pricing, and Apollo would have to pay Reddit $20m per year to keep running as is.”

Last week, Apollo announced in another post that it would close down on June 30th. “Reddit’s recent decisions and actions have unfortunately made it impossible for Apollo to continue. Thank you so, so much for all the support over the years.”

Apollo earlier said Reddit was planning to charge $12,000 for 50 million API requests and added that this was unreasonable. The app pays Imgur, another site, $166 for the same 50 million API calls.

A similar conflict played out at Twitter early this year when the site’s developer account announced free access to its API would be cut off and replaced with a paid version.

Reddit is not budging on the issue. Its boss and co-founder Steve Huffman confirmed the new changes in an explanatory post and said the social media website needed them in order to simply survive.

“Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business, and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use,” said Huffman. He added that over 90% of third-party apps do not exceed the queries-per-minute limits and can continue to access the API for free.

And there’s another reason why Reddit is moving to charge the use of its API. Huffman himself told The New York Times in April he found it unacceptable that AI companies such as OpenAI have been scraping huge amounts of Reddit data to train their systems – for free.

“The Reddit corpus of data is really valuable. But we don’t need to give all of that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free,” said Huffman.

In 2021, Reddit said it was hoping to go public by 2023. However, analysts say the company is now worth less than the $15 billion it had hoped for. In contrast, OpenAI’s valuation likely reached $29 billion in January 2023, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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