Italy stopped the chat
April 17, 2023
Luca Mazzacane
(Pavia, Italy)

In a unique development, and for the first time in the world, a country’s privacy guarantor has sanctioned a stop to an application of artificial intelligence until it complies with privacy regulations. The Italian Data Protection Authority has opened an investigation contesting the unlawful collection of Italian users' data, and the company faces a heavy penalty.

The Italian Data Protection Authority has ordered, with immediate effect, the temporary restriction of the processing of Italian users' data against OpenAI, the U.S.-based company that developed and operates the platform. At the same time, the Authority opened an investigation. The company now has 20 days to respond to the Authority and explain how it complies with the GDPR. The penalty consists of a sanction of up to 20 million euros, or up to 4 percent of annual global company revenue.  What is being evaluated at the Data Protection Authority is whether other generative artificial intelligences also have the same privacy profiles that triggered the investigation against ChatGPT.

 The U.S.-based company assured:
"We are actively working to reduce personal data in the formation of our systems and be reactivated as soon as possible". 

The charges

There are several charges attributed to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. First, on the 20th of March, the company suffered a data breach regarding user conversations and payment information of paid service subscribers. But there is more, and the charges focus primarily on the incorrect data processing.

The Italian privacy guarantor notes the lack of information given to users and all stakeholders whose data is collected by OpenAI. But above all, it notes the absence of a legal basis that justifies the massive collection and storage of personal data in order to ”train” the algorithms underlying the operation of the platform. 

Moreover, as witnessed by the audits carried out, the information provided by ChatGPT does not always correspond to the actual data, thus leading to an inaccurate processing of personal data. Finally, despite the fact that (according to the terms published by OpenAI) the service is aimed at those over 13 years old, the Italian Authority highlights how the absence of any filter for verifying the age of users exposes minors to answers that are absolutely unsuitable with respect to their degree of development and self-awareness.

Should I use a VPN?

Virtual private networks allow the internet connection to bounce off other networks outside Italy, thus circumventing the blockade. After some testing, we were able to access the algorithm. However, OpenAI has announced that it has suspended new ChatGPT subscriptions from Italy, that it will refund those from the “Belpaese” who signed up for one in March, and will put existing memberships on standby until the matter is unraveled.

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