Alberta, B.C. and Quebec join Ottawa’s ChatGPT privacy investigation

The logo for OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, appears on a mobile phone, in New York, on Jan. 31. Richard Drew / The Associated Press

Four provincial and federal privacy authorities in Canada announced Thursday that they have launched an investigation into OpenAI, the company responsible for the artificial intelligence-powered chatbot ChatGPT.

The joint investigation is being handled by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC), the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta.

The group says it is investigating in response to a complaint it received alleging the collection and use of personal information by ChatGPT without consent.

Last month, the OPC announced it had launched an investigation into OpenAI over the allegation and, now, “given the broad scope and significant privacy impact of artificial intelligence and its relevance to all Canadians,” Alberta, B.C. and Quebec have joined in support.

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“Through collaboration, the offices will be able to leverage their combined resources and expertise to more effectively and efficiently enforce privacy laws,” reads a release from the government regarding the investigation.

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OPC and the provincial privacy authorities will investigate a number of points, including whether OpenAI has obtained proper consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal information supplied by Canadians who use ChatGPT.

It will also look at whether the company has “respected its obligations with respect to openness and transparency, access, accuracy, and accountability,” and “collected, used and/or disclosed personal information for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate, reasonable or legitimate in the circumstances, and whether this collection is limited to information that is necessary for these purposes.”

Scott Sibbald, communications manager with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, told Global News that OpenAI was informed about the investigation this week but did not share any other details, citing an open investigation.

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When a user asks ChatGPT whether it collects personal information, the chatbot says it only collects information provided by the user.

“As an AI language model, I don’t have access to personal data about individuals unless it has been shared with me during our conversation. I’m designed to respect user privacy and confidentiality,” the chatbot wrote in response to Global News’ query.

“My primary function is to provide information and answer questions to the best of my knowledge and abilities. If you have any concerns about privacy or data security, please let me know, and I will do my best to address them.”

Privacy commissioner Philippe Dufresnes said in a statement last month that artificial intelligence and its effects on privacy are a top priority, and his office must stay ahead of “fast-moving technological advances.”

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The privacy authorities say they will report publicly on their findings once the investigation has been concluded.

Canada is not the only nation to express privacy concerns with ChatGPT — Italy blocked the chatbot following a reported data breach.

— With a file from The Canadian Press

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