Italy has become the first Western country to block advanced chatbot ChatGPT, citing privacy concerns. The Italian data-protection authority announced the ban and launched an investigation into OpenAI, the US start-up that created the chatbot and is backed by Microsoft.
OpenAI Responds to Privacy Concerns
OpenAI informed the BBC that it complies with privacy laws. ChatGPT, launched in November 2022, has been used by millions of people for its natural, human-like language and ability to mimic writing styles. Microsoft invested billions of dollars in the technology and recently integrated it into Bing and its Office apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
Concerns Over AI Risks
There are increasing concerns over the potential risks of AI, including threats to jobs, the spread of misinformation and bias, and loss of control in AI development. Earlier this week, tech leaders, including Elon Musk, called for a suspension of these AI systems. The Italian watchdog plans to investigate whether ChatGPT complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which governs the use, processing, and storage of personal data.
Data Breach and Age Verification Issues
On March 20, the watchdog reported a data breach involving user conversations and payment information, asserting that there was no legal basis for the mass collection and storage of personal data for training the platform's algorithms. The authority also highlighted the app's inability to verify user age, potentially exposing minors to unsuitable content. Google's rival chatbot, Bard, is available only to users over 18 for the same reasons.
Possible Fines and International Coordination
OpenAI has 20 days to address the watchdog's concerns or face a fine of €20 million ($21.7m) or up to 4% of annual revenues. The Irish data protection commission and the UK's Information Commissioner's Office have expressed their intent to collaborate with the Italian regulator and ensure compliance with data protection laws. Dan Morgan from SecurityScorecard emphasized the importance of regulatory compliance for businesses operating in Europe.
Consumer Advocacy Group Calls for Investigations
BEUC, a consumer advocacy group, called on EU and national authorities to investigate ChatGPT and similar chatbots, expressing concern that current legislation on AI is insufficient. Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC, warned that society is not adequately protected from potential AI harm and stressed the need for greater public scrutiny and control over AI systems. ChatGPT is already blocked in several countries, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
OpenAI's Commitment to Privacy
OpenAI said it has disabled ChatGPT for users in Italy at the request of the Italian data protection regulator, the Garante, and that it is committed to protecting people's privacy and complying with GDPR and other privacy laws. The organization emphasized its focus on AI systems learning about the world, not private individuals, and expressed its eagerness to work with the Garante and educate them on its systems. OpenAI hopes to make ChatGPT available in Italy again soon.
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