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The Italians’ blocking of ChatGPT on privacy grounds may cause other EU members to follow suit.

Italy’s move to temporarily block access to ChatGPT has inspired other European countries to study the matter more closely, according to a report in Reuters.

The flurry of attention comes as European lawmakers are struggling to finalise the EU AI Act, a law intended to protect citizens of the bloc from possible dangers posed by artificial intelligence. The emergence of ChatGPT has caused the European Commission to revise the Act to address generative AI, the technology behind OpenAI’s chatbot.

The actions of the Italian privacy regulator, the Garante per la Protezione dei Dati Personali (“Garante“) are based on existing legislation, however. The Garante charged OpenAI with violating the EU’s General Data protection Regulation (GDPR), citing in part the “absence of any legal basis that justifies the massive collection and storage of personal data” – a reference to the voluminous information that OpenAI uses to “train” the chatbot.

The Italian authorities have given OpenAI 20 days to comply or else face a fine of up to 20 million euros or up to 4% of the company’s global annual turnover.

Other EU watchdogs reach out

Privacy regulators in France and Ireland have reached out to the Garante to find out more about the basis of the ban, Reuters says. Ulrich Kelber, the German commissioner for data protection, told the Handelsblatt newspaper that Germany could also follow in Italy’s footsteps by blocking ChatGPT over data security concerns.

“We are following up with the Italian regulator,” a spokesperson for Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner told Reuters. “We will coordinate with all EU data protection authorities in relation to this matter.”

The privacy regulator in Sweden, however, told Reuters it had no plan to ban ChatGPT, nor was it in contact with its counterpart in Italy. And Spain’s regulator confirmed that it had not received any complaint about ChatGPT but “did not rule out a future investigation”.

A ban is not universally supported

The article notes that while the privacy commissioners favour more regulation, the governments are more lenient.

For example, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, criticised the regulator’s decision by calling it “disproportionate“. Germany’s Digital Ministry flatly rejected a step like in Italy. “We don’t need a ban on AI applications, but ways to guarantee values such as democracy and transparency,” a spokesman told the Berliner Zeitung.

Unlike other US tech companies like Facebook’s Meta and Google, OpenAI does not have a European office, which means that no single regulator can automatically take the lead in mounting an EU-wide approach to the ChatGPT problem. For now, however, it seems other bloc members may be willing to sit back and see how Italy fares with its own case.