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ChatGPT: Italy blocks AI chatbot over privacy concerns

March 31, 2023

Italy's data privacy watchdog said it was taking the temporary action "until ChatGPT respects privacy."

In this photo illustration, an Open AI logo is seen displayed on a smartphone with a ChatGPT writing in the background
In this photo illustration, an Open AI logo is seen displayed on a smartphone with a ChatGPT writing in the backgroundImage: Avishek Das/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/picture alliance

Italy's Data Protection Authority said on Friday that it was temporarily blocking the popular artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT over data privacy concerns. 

ChatGPT, which is developed by US firm OpenAI, has gained wide global attention for its ability to generate essays, songs, exams and even news articles from brief prompts.

Critics have raised concerns about the lack of transparency on how ChatGPT and similar softwares collect and process users' data.

Italy is the first Western country to block ChatGPT, although it was not immediately clear how exactly it plans it implement the ban nationwide.

Why did Italy block ChatGPT? 

The Data Protection Authority said in a statement that OpenAI had no legal basis to justify "the mass collection and storage of personal data for the purpose of 'training' the algorithms underlying the operation of the platform."

The watchdog said it took the provisional action "until ChatGPT respects privacy," including temporarily limiting the company from processing Italian users' data. 

The statement noted that the chatbot had suffered a data breach on March 20, which involved "users' conversations" and information about subscriber payments.

OpenAI had taken ChatGPT offline on that day, citing a bug that it said it had to fix. "Our investigation has also found that 1.2% of ChatGPT Plus users might have had personal data revealed to another user," the company said.

"We believe the number of users whose data was actually revealed to someone else is extremely low and we have contacted those who might be impacted," it added.

Italy's authorities said OpenAI must respond with measures to ensure users' data privacy within 20 days or face a fine of up to either €20 million (nearly $22 million) or 4% of annual global revenue.

The dark side of the shiny AI tool ChatGPT

fb/jcg (AFP, AP, dpa)