OpenAI's FTC Probe: The Story So Far
On July 13, Reuters broke the news that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has initiated an investigation into OpenAI on the grounds of potential violations of consumer protection laws, representing the most substantial regulatory challenge faced by the Microsoft-backed startup so far. According to the FTC's 20-page demand for records, the key concern is how OpenAI, the creator of the generative artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT, manages the risks associated with its AI models.
The FTC is scrutinizing whether OpenAI engaged in unscrupulous practices that inflicted "reputational harm" on consumers. This probe signifies another significant initiative to regulate technology companies under the FTC's progressive chair, Lina Khan. This move comes shortly after the FTC experienced a notable setback in court in its endeavor to prevent Microsoft from acquiring Activision Blizzard. The FTC announced its intention to appeal the court decision.
OpenAI's Response and Its CEO's Assertion
Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, addressed the FTC's investigation via a series of tweets. He stated that the company's latest technology iteration, GPT-4, was the culmination of years of safety research. The AI systems, according to Altman, are designed to gain knowledge about the world rather than about private individuals. Furthermore, he expressed OpenAI's willingness to cooperate with the FTC. However, OpenAI did not respond to requests for comment on the investigation.
The Broader Context: The AI Race and its Consequences
The launch of ChatGPT by OpenAI in November has captivated consumers and sparked competition among large tech corporations. These companies are striving to demonstrate how their AI-imbued products will transform societies and businesses' operations. This burgeoning AI race has generated widespread apprehension regarding potential risks and regulatory scrutiny of the technology.
As a response, global regulators are planning to apply existing rules, encompassing aspects such as copyright and data privacy, to two key issues: the data used to train models and the content these models produce. In the U.S., Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer has advocated for "comprehensive legislation" to progress and assure safeguards on AI, promising a series of forums later this year to establish a "new foundation for AI policy."
Past Controversies and the EU's Response
OpenAI previously encountered regulatory difficulties in Italy in March. The regulator demanded that ChatGPT be taken offline due to allegations that the company violated the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a broad privacy regulation implemented in 2018. ChatGPT was subsequently reinstated after OpenAI agreed to incorporate age verification features and enable European users to prevent their information from being utilized to train the AI model.
The Road Ahead
As regulators worldwide grapple with the rapidly evolving world of AI and technology companies, the FTC's probe into OpenAI signals a significant shift in the regulatory landscape. While it remains to be seen how this investigation will unfold, it is clear that the debate on AI regulation, data privacy, and consumer protection is far from over.