Italy curbs ChatGPT, starts probe over privacy concerns
By Elvira Pollina and Supantha Mukherjee
MILAN/STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -OpenAI has taken ChatGPT offline in Italy after the government's Data Protection Authority on Friday temporarily banned the chatbot and launched a probe over the artificial intelligence application's suspected breach of privacy rules.
The agency, also known as Garante, accused Microsoft-backed OpenAI of failing to check the age of ChatGPT's users who are supposed to be aged 13 or above.
ChatGPT has an "absence of any legal basis that justifies the massive collection and storage of personal data" to "train" the chatbot, Garante said. OpenAI has 20 days to respond with remedies or could risk a fine of up to 20 million euros ($21.68 million) or 4% of its annual worldwide turnover.
OpenAI said it has disabled ChatGPT for users in Italy at the request of the Garante.
The website could not be reached in Italy. A notice on the ChatGPT webpage said the website's owner may have set restrictions that prevent users from accessing the site.
"We actively work to reduce personal data in training our AI systems like ChatGPT because we want our AI to learn about the world, not about private individuals," OpenAI added.
Italy, which has provisionally restricted ChatGPT's use of domestic users' personal data, became the first Western country to take action against a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence.
The chatbot is also unavailable in mainland China, Hong Kong, Iran and Russia and parts of Africa where residents cannot create OpenAI accounts.
Since its release last year, ChatGPT has set off a tech craze, prompting rivals to launch similar products and companies to integrate it or similar technologies into their apps and products.
The rapid development of the technology has attracted attention from lawmakers in several countries. Many experts say new regulations are needed to govern AI because of its potential impact on national security, jobs and education.
"We expect all companies active in the EU to respect EU data protection rules. The enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation is the responsibility of EU data protection authorities," a European Commission spokesperson said.
The Commission, which is debating the EU AI Act, may not be inclined to ban AI, European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager tweeted.
"No matter which #tech we use, we have to continue to advance our freedoms & protect our rights. That's why we don't regulate #AI technologies, we regulate the uses of #AI," she said. "Let's not throw away in a few years what has taken decades to build."
On Wednesday, Elon Musk and a group of artificial intelligence experts and industry executives called for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI's newly launched GPT-4, in an open letter citing potential risks to society.
OpenAI has not provided details on how it trains its AI model.
"The lack of transparency is the real problem," said Johanna Björklund, AI researcher and associate professor at Umeå University in Sweden. "If you do AI research, you should be very transparent about how you do it."
ChatGPT is estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users in January, just two months after launch, making it the fastest-growing consumer application in history, according to a UBS study published last month.
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(Reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan, Supantha Mukherjee in Stockholm, Crispian Balmer in Rome and Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; additional reporting by Akash Sriram in Bengaluru; writing by Alvise Armellini and Alessia Pé; editing by Gavin Jones, Richard Chang and Devika Syamnath)