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Italy takes ChatGPT offline as Microsoft-backed company faces $21 million fine over privacy breach

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Photo by Donato Fasano/Getty Images

Italy put the brakes on artificial intelligence platform ChatGPT, forcing the program to temporarily shut down in Italy due to alleged privacy violations and failing to ensure that users were above the age of 13, according to MSN.

The Italian Data Protection Watchdog ordered ChatGPT, owned by OpenAI, to go offline while it probe a possible breach of the European Union's strict privacy regulations.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman revealed days before that the platform had a "bug" that temporarily allowed users to see what other users had been asking the AI chat.

“We had a significant issue in ChatGPT due to a bug in an open source library, for which a fix has now been released and we have just finished validating,” Altman posted on his Twitter page, according to CNBC.

“A small percentage of users were able to see the titles of other users’ conversation history," he added.

“We feel awful about this,” Altman continued.

Despite the CEO's apologetic words, Reuters reports that the data breach lasted for nine hours, showing users' conversations and financial information.

The issue has since been fixed, but the company still faces a massive fine of 20 million euros ($21.8 million), which equates to 4% of its annual global revenue.

The Italian agency, known as Garante, said that 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."

The organization also raised concerns about the lack of age verification and the fact that the AI can distribute incorrect information.

Some Italian politicians took issue with the platform's suspension.

"I find the decision of the Privacy Watchdog that forced #ChatGPT to prevent access from Italy disproportionate," says Matteo Salvini, leader of the ruling coalition League party.

"Every technological revolution brings great changes, risks and opportunities. It is right to control and regulate through an international cooperation between regulators and legislators, but it cannot be blocked," Salvini added.

Microsoft announced a multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI in January 2023, calling it the "the third phase of [a] long-term partnership."

“Microsoft shares our values, and we are excited to continue our independent research and work toward creating advanced AI that benefits everyone," CEO Altman commented at the time.

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