Italy Bans ChatGPT over Privacy Concerns; OpenAI to Issue Refunds

The Italian data-protection watchdog, Garante, has blocked OpenAI’s ChatGPT in Italy over privacy concerns. The EU privacy data regulator said it will ban and investigate ChatGPT for possible data violations with “immediate effect”. OpenAI may be fined up to €20 million ($21.7 million) or up to 4% of its annual revenues if it is found to have breached people’s data to train its algorithms.

In a message to ChatGPT users in Italy, OpenAI announced that the chatbot has been blocked temporarily on the orders of Garante and that it is working to resolve the issue.

“We regret to inform you that we have disabled ChatGPT for users in Italy at the request of the Italian Garante,” OpenAI wrote. “We are issuing refunds to all users in Italy who purchased a ChatGPT Plus subscription in March. We are also temporarily pausing subscription renewals in Italy so that users won’t be charged while ChatGPT is suspended.”

Garante said it will investigate whether OpenAI adhered to the stipulations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regarding the way companies can harvest, process, and store users’ personal data. The Italian watchdog accused OpenAI of possibly harvesting people’s data from the internet to train the algorithms powering ChatGPT.

Italy also stated that ChatGPT can be accessed by minors to obtain misleading and injurious information that does not correspond to their age and maturity. Garante stated that the chatbot “exposes minors to absolutely unsuitable answers compared to their degree of development and awareness.”

While OpenAI denied that its chatbot exploited public data, it stated that it complied with all GDPR regulations and would restore service again in Italy soon.

“We are committed to protecting people’s privacy, and we believe we offer ChatGPT in compliance with GDPR and other privacy laws,” the San Francisco company wrote. “We will engage with the Garante with the goal of restoring your access as soon as possible. Many of you have told us that you find ChatGPT helpful for everyday tasks, and we look forward to making it available again soon.”

Although Italy is the first country in the West to ban chatbot technology, countries such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia had already blocked ChatGPT. The UK said it supports Italy in enforcing compliance with GDPR regulations and data privacy. “Businesses must prioritize the protection of personal data and comply with the stringent data protection regulations set by the EU – compliance with regulations is not an optional extra,” Dan Morgan of SecurityScorecard said.