OpenAI faces renewed data privacy pressure in Italy

29 Jan 2024

Image: © Ascannio/

The decision could cause a wave of issues for OpenAI in the EU, as the company’s flagship product ChatGPT is also being investigated by a European task force.

Italy’s data protection authority claims OpenAI has breached data privacy regulation in the EU, reigniting issues that began last year for the company in the EU.

The watchdog – known as Garante – began an investigation into the company’s flagship product ChatGPT last year. It was during this period that the authority temporarily banned ChatGPT in Italy over alleged privacy violations.

Following this investigation, the watchdog has issued a complaint to OpenAI for violating personal data protection rules and claimed that the company’s actions may constitute “one or more offences” of EU regulation.

Garante said OpenAI has 30 days to submit a defence in relation to the alleged violations, according to a translated statement from the regulator today (29 January). The watchdog also said it will take into account the work being conducted by a European task force assessing ChatGPT.

The European Data Protection Board created this task force in April 2023 after the Italian ban and said its goal was to “foster cooperation and to exchange information on possible enforcement actions”.

The decision by Garante could reignite tensions between OpenAI and various data regulators in the EU, which began their own assessments into the company’s popular chatbot after the temporary ban last year.

When the task force was announced, Germany’s data protection commissioner hinted at a possible ChatGPT ban, while a Spanish watchdog also said it would launch an investigation into the AI model.

Last April, the deputy commissioner of Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) Graham Doyle told the Business Post that the agency had contacted Italy’s watchdog to learn more about why it banned ChatGPT.

But later that month, data protection commissioner Helen Dixon said governing bodies must figure out how to regulate AI before rushing into prohibitions that “really aren’t going to stand up”, the Irish Examiner reported.

OpenAI saw rapid success last year as ChatGPT became popular among both consumers and businesses, but it has also faced a wave of legal issues. For example, OpenAI is also being investigated in Canada, due to an allegation last year that the company is collecting, using and disclosing personal information without consent.

The New York Times launched a legal battle at the end of 2023 against OpenAI and claimed AI chatbots such as ChatGPT are trained on millions of articles published by the US media outlet. The newspaper said it now competes with these chatbots as a source of reliable information.

OpenAI said the lawsuit is “without merit” and that the dispute is an opportunity to clarify its business and technology. It also claimed that the US newspaper “is not telling the full story”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic