On Friday 31 March, OpenAI blocked ChatGPT in Italy. This came after the Italian Privacy Guarantor imposed a temporary block on the processing of users’ personal data.
Afterwards, the company explained to Wired that it wanted to cooperate with the Italian authorities and comply with the GDPR, below are all the details about this.
OpenAI disables ChatGPT access in Italy
As anticipated, OpenAI, the startup that developed the powerful conversational chatbot, has blocked ChatGPT in Italy after the Italian Privacy Guarantor imposed a temporary block on the processing of users’ personal data.
At a later date, Wired contacted OpenAI with some questions about ChatGPT’s future in light of the Garante’s investigation into personal data protection. Thus, the company gave its side of the story, claiming to comply with European rules.
Specifically, a company spokesperson explained the following to Wired:
“We have disabled ChatGPT for users in Italy as per the request of the Italian Guarantor. We are committed to protecting people’s privacy and believe we have complied with the GDPR and other privacy laws.”
In addition, OpenAI is being proactive with respect to Italy’s decisions. In fact, in this regard it stated:
“We are actively engaged in reducing personal data in training our Ai systems like ChatGPT because we want our Ais to learn about the world, not about individuals. We believe regulation of AI is needed, so we intend to work closely with regulators and educate them on how our systems are built and used.”
In any case, OpenAI knows that enthusiasm for ChatGPT in Italy was and is high, given its great usefulness and intuitive use, hence the company hopes to make the service available again as soon as possible.
Sam Altman, the founder of OpenAI, also spoke on the issue and intervened with a post on Twitter, announcing the temporary discontinuation of the service in Italy and pointing out that they respect the laws. As stated:
We of course defer to the Italian government and have ceased offering ChatGPT in Italy (though we think we are following all privacy laws).
Italy is one of my favorite countries and I look forward to visiting again soon!
— Sam Altman (@sama) March 31, 2023
What risk does OpenAI face now?
But why did Italy order the blocking of ChatGPT? Effectively, the Authority challenged OpenAI for using personal data to train its algorithm without consent. Theoretically, if the company had suspended the processing of Italian users’ data, it could have continued providing the service.
Instead, OpenAI chose to suspend access. Moreover, according to the watchdog, the OpenAI startup never provided a disclosure on the processing of user and data subjects’ data.
Most importantly, as the authority pointed out, it lacks a “legal basis to justify the massive collection and storage of personal data in order to ‘train’ the algorithms underlying the operation of the platform.”
Not only that, Italy also highlighted the problem of minors. Indeed, while ChatGPT is aimed at people over 13 years old, there is no filter to check the age of those who use it. And so, they conclude from Piazzale Venezia, this exposes “minors to responses that are completely inappropriate with respect to their degree of development and self-awareness.”
In any case, OpenAI is not based within the European Union, but has designated a representative in Ireland, and now has twenty days to respond to the Italian Authority and explain how it complies with the GDPR.
This comes at a penalty of up to 20 million euros or up to 4% of annual global turnover. In the response given to Wired, the company acknowledges that personal data is also used and announces its intention to reduce it.
However, it states that it follows all rules on confidentiality of information very carefully. In addition, there is a form on the OpenAI website for requesting the modification, deletion and transfer of personal data, rights recognized by the GDPR.
Is there a way to use the same ChatGPT in its current state?
Despite the block imposed in Italy and the resulting restrictions placed on ChatGPT, many users already fond of the chatbot wondered if there was a way to use it even in this difficult circumstance.
As such, those who want to use ChatGPT’s services can do so with a virtual private network, which allows them to have their connection bounced off other networks outside Italy, thus circumventing the block.
Wired itself did some testing and was able to access the algorithm. However, OpenAI has made it known that it has suspended new ChatGPT subscriptions from Italy, that it will refund those from the Italian country who signed up for one in March, and put existing memberships on standby until the situation is resolved.
As pointed out, the block imposed by the Italian Authority concerns data processing, and this is the first case in the world. At any rate, a meeting of European authorities is scheduled to take place at the end of April where this situation will be discussed.
This is due in part to the international uproar it is causing. Indeed, some lawyers in Italy have expressed misgivings about the hard line chosen by the guarantor and the form of the emergency measure.
To comply with what was written in the authority’s measure, the ChatGPT company also chose to suspend the service (an option that was not consequential, but possible), assuring that it would return to offering it in Italy after clarifying with the Authority.