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Euro privacy regulators sniff Italy's ChatGPT ban, consider a pizza the action

Germany may follow, France and Ireland look for guidance from Rome

As Italy suspends use of ChatGPT, other European Union countries are said to be interested in following suit over data privacy concerns.

Launched last year in November by OpenAI, ChatGPT reportedly became the fastest-growing internet app in history by attracting 100 million monthly active users in just two months. 

The non-intelligent, sentence-predicting bot can take instructions and prompts from users, and use them to produce corresponding slabs of prose, code, and other text output. It is far from perfect, however, and can produce offensive text, perpetrate bias, just get stuff plain wrong, and spread misinformation – like pretty much all large language models.

Italy's Guarantor for the Protection of Personal Data (GPDP) blocked OpenAI's website hosting the model last week. Officials are probing whether the software unlawfully collects data on citizens, and if the technology could harm minors under the age of 13. Italy thus became the first country to regulate ChatGPT, and others in the EU may follow suit.

Germany's federal commissioner for data protection and freedom of information, Ulrich Kelber, said the country could, in theory, also temporarily halt ChatGPT if it decides to probe whether the technology violates the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Meanwhile, authorities in France and Ireland are keeping a close eye on Italy's investigation, Reuters reported

"We are following up with the Italian regulator," said a spokesperson for Ireland's data protection commissioner. "We will coordinate with all EU data protection authorities in relation to this matter."

Regulators in Spain said they have not received an official complaint about ChatGPT, and might launch their own probe in the future if necessary. Sweden, however, reportedly isn't planning to ban the software and hasn't contacted Italy's GDPD for any guidance. 

Some legal experts believe a crackdown on ChatGPT could mean other AI chatbots like Google's Bard or Microsoft's Bing (which relies on the same engine as ChatGPT) may also be scrutinized and regulated.

"Unlike ChatGPT, Google is more likely to have taken [privacy] into account already because of its history in Europe and because of the size of the organization," said Dessislava Savova, partner at law firm Clifford Chance. 

It's not clear how models like ChatGPT will be impacted by the upcoming EU AI Act – the legislation designed to regulate the development and deployment of AI in member state countries is still being debated. 

The bill is delayed as officials negotiate its final policies, hoping to strike a balance between regulating privacy and safety risks whilst supporting the technical development and economic potential of AI. ®

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