Italy's ChatGPT Ban

Italy’s ban on ChatGPT presents a significant roadblock in the development of AI as governments around the world question the technology’s safety and legality.

Italian authorities said on Friday the chatbot would be blocked pending an investigation into OpenAI’s suspected breach of the EU’s GDPR laws and its failure to verify the age of users. 

They also alleged that the San Francisco-based research firm had no "legal basis that justifies the massive collection and storage of personal data in order to 'train' the algorithms underlying the operation."

It is the first time a national regulator has made such a move against ChatGPT, which last week fell victim to a security breach that exposed some user conversations and payment details.

The chatbot, which has taken the tech world by storm since its launch last November, has amassed more than 100 million active users, making it the fastest-growing web platform of all time.

It is financially backed by Microsoft, which has so far invested $11 billion into the technology and is looking to implement a version of the technology into its Bing Search Engine and Office apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

ChatGPT can answer questions using natural, human-like language using data taken from thousands of websites on the internet, including blogs, articles and recipes.

But it is this method of extracting data that has Italian officials probing whether the software unlawfully collects data on citizens and if it could cause harm to minors under the age of 18.

OpenAI has 20 days to respond to Italy’s order, backed up by the threat of 20 million euros in GDPR penalties if it fails to come up with a solution to the situation in 20 days. 

A precedent for the rest of Europe

While Italy was the first country to block ChatGPT, several other countries may soon follow suit as concerns about the chatbot’s handling of personal information sweep across Europe. 

Ulrich Kelber, the German commissioner for data protection told the Handelsblatt newspaper that Germany may join Italy in blocking the AI chatbot due to worries related to its data security. 

“In principle, such action is also possible in Germany”, Kelber told the Newspaper, adding that the German government has already requested more information from Germany on its ban. 

Privacy watchdogs in France and Ireland also said they have contacted Italy’s data regulator to discuss its concerns with ChatGPT. 

“We are following up with the Italian regulator to understand the basis for their action and we will coordinate with all EU data protection authorities in relation to this matter,” said a spokesperson for Irelands’s Data Protection Commissioner. 

Other Countries, including Spain, said they have not received an official complaint about ChatGPT and might launch their own probe in the future if necessary. 

Some legal experts believe a crackdown on ChatGPT could mean other AI chatbots like Google's Bard or Microsoft's Bing may also be scrutinised and regulated.

“Potential privacy violations by generative AI are just the tip of an iceberg of rapidly unfolding legal troubles,” said Dr Ilia Kolochenko, CEO at ImmuniWeb and Adjunct Professor of Cybersecurity & Cyber Law at Capitol Technology

“Contrasted to contemporary privacy legislation that currently has no clear answer whether and to what extent generative AI infringes privacy laws, website terms of service and software licenses fall under the well-established body of contract law, having an abundance of case law in most countries. Dr. Kolochenko added. 

Andy Patel, Researcher at WithSecure, agrees that more bans of ChatGPT should be expected, but believes that the restriction of generative AI at such an early stage of its development is an overreaction.

“If Italy’s issue is with Italian citizens interacting with an invasive US technology company, bear in mind that most of the technologies we interact with come from the US, Mr Patel said. 

“US-based social networks already control our discourse. As such, the fact that ChatGPT is hosted by a US company should not be a factor. Nor should concerns that AI might take over the world be.

Fear from within

Governments aren’t the only ones raising concerns about generative AI technology. 1800 public figures including Elon Musk, one of the original founders of OpenAI, have signed their names to an open letter calling for a six-month pause on training language models more powerful than GPT-4, the technology powering ChatGPT.  

The letter notes that AI systems now have human-competitive intelligence, and may not be safe if they get into the wrong hands. The authors believe this “could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources.” 

“Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us?” the latter asks dramatically. “Should we risk the loss of control of our civilization?”

To read more about ChatGPT, visit our AI in the Enterprise Page. 

OpenAI itself has warned that its technology could have detrimental effects on the future of society. In Recent research, it suggested that AI systems will impact 80 per cent of US jobs, with financial advisors and brokers, insurers and data processors at the top of the list. 

Sam Altman, CEO and Co-founder of OpenAI, himself admitted that the corporate world must act with care to prevent job losses across the enterprise landscape. 

"We've got to be careful here. I think people should be happy that we are a little bit scared of this," Sam Altman, CEO and Co-founder of OpenAI said in an interview with ABC News.  

Regardless, he encouraged people to look at ChatGPT as more of a tool, not a replacement. He noted that "human creativity is limitless, and we find new jobs. We find new things to do."

"I think over a couple of generations, humanity has proven that it can adapt wonderfully to major technological shifts," Altman said. "But if this happens in a single-digit number of years, some of these shifts. That is the part I worry about the most."