ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022. In the past few weeks, several Western data protection authorities have started investigations into how OpenAI collects and processes the data powering ChatGPT. They believe it has scraped people’s personal data, such as names or email addresses, and used it without their consent.
The Italian authority has blocked the use of ChatGPT as a precautionary measure, and French, German, Irish, and Canadian data regulators are also investigating how the OpenAI system collects and uses data. The European Data Protection Board, the umbrella organisation for data protection authorities, is also setting up an EU-wide task force to coordinate investigations and enforcement around ChatGPT.
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The Italian authority says OpenAI is not being transparent about how it collects users’ data during the post-training phase, such as in chat logs of their interactions with ChatGPT.
“What’s really concerning is how it uses data that you give it in the chat,” says Leautier. People tend to share intimate, private information with the chatbot, telling it about things like their mental state, their health, or their personal opinions. Leautier says it is problematic if there’s a risk that ChatGPT regurgitates this sensitive data to others. And under European law, users need to be able to get their chat log data deleted, he adds.
Italy has given OpenAI until 30 April to comply with the law. This would mean OpenAI would have to ask people for consent to have their data scraped or prove that it has a “legitimate interest” in collecting it. OpenAI will also have to explain to people how ChatGPT uses their data and give them the power to correct any mistakes about them that the chatbot spits out, to have their data erased if they want, and to object to letting the computer program use it.
If OpenAI cannot convince the authorities its data use practices are legal, it could be banned in specific countries or even the entire European Union. It could also face hefty fines and might even be forced to delete models and the data used to train them, says Alexis Leautier, an AI expert at the French data protection agency CNIL.
OpenAI’s violations are so flagrant that it’s likely that this case will end up in the Court of Justice of the European Union, the EU’s highest court, says Lilian Edwards, an internet law professor at Newcastle University. It could take years before we see an answer to the questions posed by the Italian data regulator.
Read more: OpenAI’s hunger for data is coming back to bite it, MIT Technology Review, 19 April 2023
On 30 March, the day before ChatGPT was taken offline in Italy, Engadget noted that a public challenge in the USA could put a temporary stop to the deployment of ChatGPT and similar AI systems. The non-profit research organisation Centre for AI and Digital Policy (“CAIDP”) had filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) alleging that OpenAI is violating the FTC Act through its releases of large language AI models like GPT-4. That model is “biased, deceptive” and threatens both privacy and public safety, CAIDP claims. Likewise, it supposedly fails to meet Commission guidelines calling for AI to be transparent, fair and easy to explain.
CAIDP president Marc Rotenberg was among those who signed an open letter dated 22 March demanding that OpenAI and other AI researchers pause work for six months to give time for ethics discussions. OpenAI founder Elon Musk also signed the letter.
Read more: OpenAI may have to halt ChatGPT releases following FTC complaint, Engadget, 30 March 2023
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