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ChatGPT banned in Italy over privacy concerns

The model created by US start-up OpenAI and supported by Microsoft, which allows users to ask questions and receive natural language responses, has been subject to privacy concerns by the Italian data-protection authority. The regulator has announced an immediate ban and investigation of OpenAI, while OpenAI states it has followed all privacy laws. Despite this, millions of users have already utilized ChatGPT since its launch in November 2022. Microsoft has heavily invested in this technology, which was recently added to Bing and will be integrated into its Office suite, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has raised concerns over potential risks, such as job displacement, the spread of misinformation, and the perpetuation of bias. Recently, tech leaders, including Elon Musk, have called for a suspension of these AI systems, citing fears that their development is spiraling out of control.

In response to these concerns, the Italian watchdog has not only decided to block OpenAI’s chatbot, but also investigate its compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This regulation governs the collection, processing, and storage of personal data. The watchdog announced on March 20th that the app had experienced a data breach, including user conversations and payment information.

The watchdog further stated that there was no legal justification for “the mass collection and storage of personal data for the purpose of ‘training’ the algorithms underlying the operation of the platform.”

The Italian data-protection authority expressed concerns that OpenAI’s chatbot exposed minors to inappropriate content without any way to verify their age. In contrast, Google’s rival chatbot, Bard, is only accessible to users over the age of 18 due to similar concerns.

The Italian watchdog has given OpenAI 20 days to address its concerns, and failure to do so may result in a fine of up to €20 million ($21.7m) or 4% of annual revenues. The Irish data protection commission is also following up with the Italian regulator to understand the basis for the ban and will coordinate with other EU data protection authorities regarding this issue.

The UK’s independent data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, stated that it is supportive of AI development but is also prepared to challenge non-compliance with data protection laws. Cybersecurity ratings provider, SecurityScorecard, believes that the ban highlights the importance of regulatory compliance for companies operating in Europe.

Compliance with EU data protection regulations is a necessity for businesses to safeguard personal data. Consumer advocacy group BEUC has filed a complaint in the US and is urging EU and national authorities, including data-protection watchdogs, to investigate ChatGPT and other similar chatbots. However, BEUC is concerned that the world’s first AI legislation, the AI Act, may take years to take effect, leaving consumers vulnerable to harm from inadequately regulated technology.

BEUC’s deputy director general, Ursula Pachl, warns that AI has the potential to cause harm, and society is not sufficiently protected from it. There are growing concerns about how chatbots, such as ChatGPT, can deceive and manipulate people, and they need greater public scrutiny. As such, public authorities must take control of AI systems.

ChatGPT has already been blocked in several countries, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. The Italian data protection regulator, the Garante, has requested OpenAI to disable ChatGPT for users in Italy. OpenAI has assured the BBC that it is committed to protecting people’s privacy and that it complies with GDPR and other privacy laws. OpenAI claims to have worked towards reducing personal data in training AI systems like ChatGPT, emphasizing that their AI systems learn about the world, not about private individuals. The organisation believes AI regulation is necessary and has expressed its willingness to work with the Garante to educate them on how their systems are built and used. OpenAI hopes to make ChatGPT available in Italy again soon.

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