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Italian regulator draws criticism for blocking AI chatbot ChatGPT

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Italy’s ban on conversational artificial intelligence (AI), ChatGPT, sparked significant controversy among the tech industry and the country. The Italian deputy prime minister also criticized the ban as excessive. 

On Friday, March 31, following concerns raised by the national data agency about possible privacy violations and failure to verify the age of users, Microsoft-backed OpenAI took ChatGPT offline in Italy. This action by the independent agency marked the first instance of a Western country taking measures against the AI chatbot.

The Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini took to Instagram to share his thoughts: “I find the decision of the Privacy Watchdog that forced #ChatGPT to prevent access from Italy disproportionate,” says a translated version of his post.

Salvini said that the regulator’s move was hypocritical, as there are dozens of services based on artificial intelligence, naming examples like Bing’s chat. Salvini said common sense was needed as “privacy issues concern practically all online services.”

The ChatGPT ban could harm national business and innovation, Salvini said, adding that he hoped for a rapid solution to be found, and for the chatbot’s access to Italy to be restored.

“Every technological revolution brings great changes, risks, and opportunities. It is right to control and regulate through international cooperation between regulators and legislators, but it cannot be blocked,” he said.

Another objection to the ban was heard from Ron Moscona, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, and an expert in technology and data privacy. He said the ban by the Italian regulators comes as a surprise, as it is unusual to completely ban a service due to a data breach incident.

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Following the request from the authorities, OpenAI has blocked ChatGPT for users in Italy. However, the company stated that it adheres to privacy regulations in Europe, and is willing to cooperate with Italy’s privacy regulatory body. OpenAI claimed that it takes measures to minimize personal data when training its AI systems, including ChatGPT, as its goal is for the AI to acquire knowledge about the world, not to obtain information about specific individuals.

The AI chatbot is also under scrutiny in other regions worldwide. The Center for Artificial Intelligence and Digital Policy (CAIDP) lodged a complaint against ChatGPT on March 31, intending to prevent the deployment of potent AI systems to the general public. The CAIDP characterized the chatbot as a “biased” and “deceptive” platform that jeopardizes public safety and confidentiality.

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