Italy’s Ban on ChatGPT Sparks Controversy as Local Industry Spars With Silicon Valley on Other Matters

The Italian government’s decision on Friday to ban artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT – becoming the world’s first country to block the chatbot – is sparking local controversy.

The move is being criticized within the government itself just as Italy’s entertainment industry is up in arms against Silicon Valley on several other fronts.

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Italy’s Data Protection Authority on Friday said it had ordered California-based OpenAI to temporarily block the country’s internet users from gaining access to ChatGPT following a verified data breach that it claims represents a possible violation of European Union data protection rules.

According to the Italian government watchdog, OpenAI has been illegally gathering personal data from Italian customers involving ChatGPT “users’ conversations” and information about subscriber payments and did not have an age-verification system in place, exposing children to responses from the chatbot that are “absolutely inappropriate to their age and awareness,” it said in a statement.

OpenAI said late Friday night in a statement that it has disabled ChatGPT for Italian users at the government’s request. The company also stated that it is working “to reduce personal data in training our AI systems like ChatGPT because we want our AI to learn about the world, not about private individuals.” The company added that it hopes to make ChatGPT available again in Italy soon.

The Italian watchdog says OpenAI must report within 20 days what measures it has taken to ensure the privacy of users’ data or face a fine of up to €20 million euros (nearly $22 million) or 4% of annual global revenue.

Italy’s decision to ban ChatGPT comes amid a growing chorus of concerns about the artificial intelligence boom across many industry sectors around the world. Last week a group of more than 1,000 U.S. scientists and tech leaders including Elon Musk, who is an OpenAI co-founder, signed an open letter urging a moratorium on the development of the most powerful artificial intelligence systems saying that they pose “profound risks to society and humanity” unless safety policies are implemented.

Italy is the first government to ban ChatGPT due to privacy concerns, though the chatbot that draws on a massive database of digital books and other online material to mimic human writing styles and also engage in humanlike conversations, is currently unavailable in China, North Korea, Russia and Iran, because OpenAI decided not to make it accessible in these undemocratic countries.

But even within the Italian government the ChatGPT ban has sparked complaints. “We should not be hypocritical,” tweeted over the weekend Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini who claims he opposes all forms of censorship. The prominent right wing politician pointed out that “problems related to privacy pertain to practically all online services.” Salvini went on to add that “Common sense is required” and expressed his hope “for a rapid clarification and resumption of the service.”

Meanwhile use of artificial intelligence in the entertainment industry has been at the center of a labor dispute between Italian dubbers who recently went on strike partly in an effort to obtain a contractual safeguard against dubbing devices using cutting-edge AI technology that are starting to change how Hollywood localizes its movies and TV shows.

In another dispute involving Italy and Silicon Valley, Italian song rights collecting society Siae, which is government run, is engaged in battle with Meta after the social media giant last month started excluding its repertoire from its Facebook and Instagram platforms amid deadlocked licensing negotiations. According to SIAE one bone of contention is Meta’s alleged refusal to share consumption data. A refusal which it claims is against EU copyright law principles. Italian Deputy Culture Minister Lucia Bergonzoni will be meeting this week with executives from Siae and Meta to try and broker an agreement.

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