Italy has made history by becoming the first Western country to ban the use of ChatGPT, a popular chatbot created by OpenAI and backed by Microsoft. The ban comes after the Italian data-protection authority raised concerns over the app’s privacy and data protection measures. The regulator has also launched an investigation into OpenAI, stating that the ban will take effect immediately.
ChatGPT is an advanced chatbot that uses natural, human-like language to answer questions and can mimic other writing styles. It has been used by millions of people since its launch in November 2022 and was added to Bing last month. Microsoft has also announced that it will embed a version of the technology in its Office apps, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
However, concerns have been raised over the potential risks of AI, including its threat to jobs and the spreading of misinformation and bias. Earlier this week, key figures in tech, including Elon Musk, called for a suspension of these types of AI systems amid fears that the race to develop them was out of control.
Italia will not only ban the use of OpenAI’s chatbot but will also investigate whether it complies with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which governs the way in which personal data can be used, processed, and stored. There are also concerns over a data breach involving user conversations and payment information and the mass collection and storage of personal data for the purpose of “training” the algorithms underlying the operation of the platform.
Additionally, since there is no way to verify the age of users, the app “exposes minors to absolutely unsuitable answers compared to their degree of development and awareness.” As a result, Google’s rival artificial-intelligence chatbot, Bard, is only available to specific users over the age of 18.
OpenAI has been given 20 days to respond to the watchdog’s concerns or face a fine of €20 million ($21.7m) or up to 4% of its annual revenues. The Irish data protection commission, responsible for upholding the fundamental right of individuals in the EU to have their personal data protected, has stated that it is following up with the Italian regulator to understand the basis for their action and “will coordinate with all EU data protection authorities” in connection to the ban.
Consumer advocacy group BEUC has also called on EU and national authorities to investigate ChatGPT and similar chatbots, following the filing of a complaint in the US. While the EU is currently working on the world’s first legislation on AI, BEUC is concerned that it would take years before the AI Act could take effect, leaving consumers at risk of harm from a technology that is not sufficiently regulated.