Europe 1 with AFP 19:15 p.m., March 31, 2023

Italy has announced, with immediate effect, the blocking of the ChatGPT chatbot, which is accused of not complying with personal data legislation. On top of that, ChatGPT doesn't have a system to verify the age of users.

Is Italy leading the sling against artificial intelligence? It on Friday became the first country in the Western world to block ChatGPT over data usage fears, two months after it banned another program marketed as a "virtual friend." In a statement, the Italian Authority for the Protection of Personal Data warns that its decision has an "immediate effect" and accuses the chatbot of not respecting European regulations and not verifying the age of underage users.

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Temporary limitation of the processing of Italian users' data

This decision will result in "the temporary limitation of the processing of Italian users' data vis-à-vis OpenAI", the company behind the application, according to the document. ChatGPT appeared in November and was quickly taken over by users impressed by its ability to clearly answer difficult questions, write sonnets or computer code. Funded by the computer giant Microsoft, which has added it to several of its services, it is sometimes presented as a potential competitor to the Google search engine.

The Italian institution points out that ChatGPT "suffered on March 20 a loss of data concerning users' conversations and payment information of subscribers to the paid service". After initial reports, OpenAI briefly halted the service and then acknowledged a bug in a now-fixed, third-party tool that affected 1.2 percent of its subscribers and an indefinite number of free users.

The authority also criticizes it "the absence of an information note to users, whose data is collected by OpenAI, but especially the absence of a legal basis justifying the collection and mass storage of personal data, in order to train the algorithms that operate the platform". In addition, while the robot is intended for people over the age of 13, it "emphasizes that the absence of any filter to verify the age of users exposes minors to answers that are absolutely non-compliant with their level of development."

Misinformation and malware

The same institution had blocked in early February for similar reasons the application Replika, which offers to chat with a tailor-made avatar. Some users had complained of receiving messages and images that were too daring, bordering on sexual harassment.

Once again, the Autorité asks OpenAI to "communicate within 20 days the measures taken" to remedy this situation, "under penalty of a penalty of up to 20 million euros or up to 4% of annual worldwide turnover", the maximum provided for by the European Regulation on personal data (GDPR). This case shows that the GDPR, which has already led to billions of dollars in fines for tech giants, could also become the enemy of new AIs that generate content.

According to Nello Cristianini, professor at the University of Bath (UK), "the most important considerations" are "the use without an appropriate legal basis of personal data for model training and the growing possibility of this data being inaccurately reproduced". AI also has much deeper fears than the mere exploitation of personal data and the European Union is currently preparing a draft regulation that could be finalized by early 2024, for application a few years later.

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Criminals ready to take advantage of artificial intelligence

Europol warned on Monday that criminals were ready to take advantage of artificial intelligence to commit fraud and other cybercrimes. ChatGPT was also blocked shortly after its release in several schools or universities around the world, after fears of cheating on exams, and companies advised their employees against using the app. "We have seen employees provide their company's strategic plans to ChatGPT to ask it to make a slide presentation. Idiots! Because all the data goes into ChatGPT which can regurgitate it if a competitor asks him the strategy of this company, "explained Françoise Soulie Fogelman, advisor of the FranceIA Hub, during a conference.

On Wednesday, billionaire Elon Musk, one of the founders of OpenAI from which he later left the board, and hundreds of global experts, called for a six-month pause in research on AI more powerful than GPT-4, the latest version of the software on which ChatGPT is based launched in mid-March, citing "major risks for humanity".