OpenAI Hit With New Lawsuits Over Privacy, Copyright

Artificial intelligence company OpenAI was hit with two new lawsuits this week, both dealing with the way developers harness online material to train technology such as ChatGPT4, which can generate content.

One case was brought by two authors who claim OpenAI infringed their copyright.

The other, more sweeping case was brought by a group of anonymous consumers, who say the company and affiliates (including Microsoft, an investor) violated their privacy by allegedly using “stolen private information,” to develop and market ChatGPT4 and other products.

In the copyright suit, authors Paul Tremblay and Mona Awad allege in a class-action complaint that OpenAI wrongly “copied and ingested” numerous books, including Tremblay's The Cabin at the End of the World, and Awad's 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl and Bunny.

“On information and belief, to train the OpenAI Language Models, OpenAI relied on harvesting mass quantities of textual material from the public internet, including plaintiffs’ books, which are available in digital formats,” the authors allege in a class-action complaint brought in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The suit by consumers alleges that OpenAI and its affiliates “collect, store, track, share, and disclose private information of millions of users,” including people's emails, geolocation data, social media information, chat logs, searches and keystrokes.

“The massive, unparalleled collection and tracking of users’ personal information by defendants endangers individuals’ privacy and security to an incalculable degree,” the consumers allege in a 157-page complaint, also brought in the Northern District of California. “This information can be exploited and used to perpetrate identity theft, financial fraud, extortion, and other malicious purposes. It can also be employed to target vulnerable individuals with predatory advertising, algorithmic discrimination, and other unethical and harmful acts.”

Tremblay and Awad are seeking monetary damages and an injunction that could prohibit future copyright infringements.

The consumers are seeking damages as well as a court order that would impose broad requirements on OpenAI. For instance, one of the consumers' requests is for an independent council to oversee the development of new artificial intelligence products. Another request is that OpenAI delete consumes' personal information, unless it can show “reasonable justification” to retain the data.

OpenAI is facing other lawsuits, including one accusing by radio host Mark Walters, who alleges that ChatGPT defamed him by providing false and malicious information to a journalist.

These cases come as lawmakers, regulators and consumer advocates are increasingly scrutinizing potential threats posed by artificial intelligence.

Just last week, a group of lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill that would establish commission to explore potential regulations for artificial intelligence.

“Artificial Intelligence is doing amazing things for our society. It can also cause significant harm if left unchecked and unregulated,” bill sponsor Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) stated last week. “Congress must not stay on the sidelines.”

Also last week, a coalition of consumer watchdogs expressed concerns to President Joe Biden about “serious downsides and harms” -- including threats to privacy and potential discrimination -- that could come from artificial intelligence capable of generating text, images and other content.

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