ChatGPT Banned in Italy and Implications

Alan Cai

March 31, 2023

Italy announced today that it would ban the artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, ChatGPT. ChatGPT was launched by California technology startup OpenAI in November 2022 and has since gained traction around the globe. The free service prides itself with the ability to engage in conversations, provide information, write songs, and much more.

Following the data breach on March 20th, in which OpenAI claimed that data was leaked for up to 1.2% of ChatGPT Plus users, questions have been raised regarding the platform’s security and conduct. Subscribers to the platform’s premiums service have expressed concerns that their subscription payment information, conversations, and other information may have been compromised. The bug resulted in a one-day shutdown of the platform and was subsequently fixed by OpenAI.

The Data Protection Authority of Italy cited “there appears to be no legal basis underpinning the massive collection and processing of personal data in order to ‘train’ the algorithms on which the platform relies” as reasoning for its decision to bar the platform. Among other reasons, the official press release also expressed concerns over inaccuracy of statistics and information provided by the platform and the lack of age-verification, despite the platform claiming to be targeting individuals age 13 and over. The press release confirms the concern for minors accessing the service by stating, “the lack of whatever age verification mechanism exposes children to receiving responses that are absolutely inappropriate to their age and awareness.”

The restriction of ChatGPT usage by the Italian SA should come as no surprise considering Italy’s history of government involvement in industry. Italy has elected two technocratic governments in the past which include the Dini government(1995 - 1996) and the Monti government(2011 - 2013). Technocratic governments are governments composed of experts(such as economists or scholars) rather than democratically-elected politicians. Their existence remains controversial and have mostly been limited to emergency situations. Technocratic governments bear minor resemblance to the temporary-dictators of ancient Rome and the philosopher king system proposed by Plato in the sense that effective decision-making may at times require individuals uninvolved in the political process. The Italian SA has also previously imposed a ban on Google Analytics under the pretext that the Google service collects an unnecessary amount of user data.

The banning of ChatGPT in Italy opens a realm of uncharted territory for the world of technology as a whole. While relatively new, ChatGPT uses similar policies of data collection as the much larger search engines and social media platforms of the day. In fact, most online services which follow freemium models such as Grammarly, Spotify, and Youtube do collect significant user data, with the latter notably using collected user data for the purpose of improving algorithms.

Despite the stir the prohibition has created, the Italian government seems to be leaving the door open for negotiation. In the press article’s conclusion, it urged the ChatGPT representative to Europe “to notify the Italian SA within 20 days of the measures implemented to comply with the order, otherwise a fine of up to EUR 20 million or 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover may be imposed.” The Brutus Journal has reached out to the Italian Data Protection Authority with a request for comment and has yet to hear back.