ChatGPT banned in Italy due to privacy concerns

  • By Shiona McCallum
  • Technology Reporter

image source, Getty Images


OpenAI launched ChatGPT last November

Italy has become the first western country to block advanced chatbot ChatGPT.

The Italian data protection authority said there were privacy concerns about the model, which was created by US start-up OpenAI and is backed by Microsoft.

The regulator said it would ban and investigate OpenAI “with immediate effect”.

OpenAI told the BBC it complied with privacy laws.

Millions of people have used ChatGPT since it was launched in November 2022.

It can answer questions using natural, human-like language, and it can also mimic other writing styles, using the internet as it was in 2021 as a database.

Microsoft has spent billions of dollars on it, and it was added to Bing last month.

It has also said it will build a version of the technology into its Office apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

There have been concerns over the potential risks of artificial intelligence (AI), including the threat to jobs and the spread of misinformation and bias.

Earlier this week, key tech figures, including Elon Musk, called for these types of AI systems to be suspended over fears that the race to develop them was out of control.

The Italian watchdog said it would not only block OpenAI’s chatbot, but it would also investigate whether it complied with the General Data Protection Regulation.

GDPR governs the way we can use, process and store personal data.

The watchdog said on March 20 that the app had experienced a data breach involving user conversations and payment information.

It said there was no legal basis to justify the “bulk collection and storage of personal data for the purpose of ‘training’ the algorithms underlying the operation of the platform.”

It also said that since there was no way to verify users’ age, the app “subjects minors to absolutely inappropriate responses compared to their level of development and awareness”.

Bard, Google’s rival AI chatbot, is now available, but only to specific users over the age of 18 – due to the same concerns.

The Italian data protection authority said OpenAI had 20 days to say how it would address the watchdog’s concerns, with a fine of €20 million ($21.7 million) or up to 4% of annual revenue.

Elsewhere, the Irish Data Protection Commission told the BBC it is following up with the Italian regulator to understand the basis of their action and “will coordinate with all EU data protection authorities” in relation to the ban.

The Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s independent data regulator, told the BBC it would “support” developments in AI but was also ready to “challenge non-compliance” with data protection laws.

Dan Morgan, from cyber security rating provider SecurityScorecard, said the ban shows the importance of compliance for companies operating in Europe.

“Companies must prioritize the protection of personal data and comply with the strict data protection regulations set by the EU – regulatory compliance is not an optional extra.”

“Not adequately regulated”

Consumer advocacy group BEUC also called on EU and national authorities – including data protection watchdogs – to investigate ChatGPT and similar chatbots, following the filing of a complaint in the US.

Although the EU is currently working on the world’s first legislation on AI, BEUC’s concern is that it will take years before the AI ​​law can come into force, leaving consumers at risk of being harmed by a technology that is not adequately regulated.

Ursula Pachl, deputy director general of BEUC, warned that society is “not yet protected enough against the damage” that AI could cause.

“Serious concerns are growing about how ChatGPT and similar chatbots can deceive and manipulate people. These AI systems need greater public scrutiny and public authorities need to reassert control over them,” she said.

ChatGPT is already blocked in a number of countries, including China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

OpenAI told the BBC it had disabled ChatGPT for users in Italy at the request of the Italian data protection regulator, called Garante:

“We are committed to protecting people’s privacy and we believe we comply with the GDPR and other privacy laws,” it wrote.

The organization said it was working to reduce personal data in training AI systems like ChatGPT because it wanted its AI systems to “learn about the world, not about private individuals”.

“We also believe that AI regulation is necessary – so we look forward to working closely with Garante and educating them on how our systems are built and used”, it added.

OpenAI said it looked forward to making ChatGPT available in Italy again “soon”.

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