EXPLAINED: Will ChatGPT return to Italy by the end of April?

ChatGPT could return to Italy soon if its maker, OpenAI, can satisfy a list of requirements from the Italian privacy watchdog after it blocked the use of the chatbot in the country last month.

EXPLAINED: Will ChatGPT return to Italy by the end of April?
Italy's privacy watchdog in March blocked the AI chatbot ChatGPT, saying it did not respect user data and could not verify users' age. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

After Italy temporarily banned ChatGPT in March over data protection concerns, the popular artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot could be reinstated in the country by the end of April – provided it can follow a list of rules set by regulators.

Italy became the first Western country to restrict use of the technology amid growing concern about the implications of its widespread use.

READ ALSO: Italy blocks artificial intelligence app ChatGPT over data privacy failings

The head of Italy’s privacy watchdog said on Tuesday he was hopeful that OpenAI would adjust its chatbot so it could be back online in the country at the end of the month.

“We are ready to reopen ChatGPT on April 30th, if there is a willingness on the part of OpenAI to take useful steps,” Data Protection Authority chief Pasquale Stanzione told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

“It seems that on the company’s side there is, we’ll see,” he said.

The Italian watchdog, known as Garante, last week outlined a set of requirements that US firm OpenAI, which makes ChatGPT, will have to satisfy by April 30th.

San Francisco-based OpenAI, which had responded by proposing changes to ease the concerns, said on Wednesday it welcomed the Italian regulators’ move.

“We are happy that the Italian Garante is reconsidering their decision and we look forward to working with them to make ChatGPT available to our customers in Italy again soon,” OpenAI said in a statement.

There have been growing concerns around the artificial intelligence boom, with other countries including France and Canada also investigating or looking closer at so-called generative AI technology like ChatGPT. The chatbots are “trained” using huge pools of data, including digital books and online articles, and are able to generate text that mimics human writing styles.

Universities and some education authorities have banned the chatbot over fears that students could use it to write essays or cheat in exams.

And hundreds of experts and industry figures signed an open letter in March calling for a pause in the development of powerful AI systems, arguing they posed “profound risks to society and humanity”.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT has been temporarily blocked in Italy (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

Italian regulators suspended the use of ChatGPT after saying the company had no legal basis to justify “the mass collection and storage of personal data for the purpose of ‘training’ the algorithms underlying the operation of the platform”.

The watchdog said for ChatGPT to be reinstated OpenAI must post information on its website about how and why it processes the personal information of both users and non-users, as well as provide the option to correct or delete that data.

OpenAI will have to rely on consent or “legitimate interest” to use personal data to train ChatGPT’s algorithms, the watchdog said.

OpenAI also will have to carry out a publicity campaign by May 15th through radio and TV, newspapers and the internet to inform people about how it uses their personal data for training algorithms, Italy’s watchdog said.

The company will also be required to verify users’ ages and set up a system to filter out under-13s and teens aged between 13-18 who don’t have parental consent.

“Only in that case will the Italian SA (supervisory authority) lift its order that placed a temporary limitation on the processing of Italian users’ data … so that ChatGPT will be available once again from Italy,” the watchdog said.

The success of ChatGPT garnered OpenAI a multibillion-dollar deal with Microsoft, which uses the technology in its Bing search engine and other programs.

Other AI chat software remains available to use in Italy.

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How will the new app for Europe’s EES border system work?

With Europe set to introduce its new Entry/Exit biometric border system (EES) in the autumn there has been much talk about the importance of a new app designed to help avoid delays. But how will it work and when will it be ready?

How will the new app for Europe's EES border system work?

When it comes into force the EU’s new digital border system known as EES will register the millions of annual entries and exits of non-EU citizens travelling to the EU/Schengen area, which will cover 29 European countries.

Under the EU Entry/Exit System (EES), non-EU residents who do not require a visa will have to register their biometric data in a database that will also capture each time they cross an external Schengen border.

Passports will no longer be manually stamped, but will be scanned. However, biometric data such as fingerprints and facial images will have to be registered in front of a guard when the non-EU traveller first crosses in to the EU/Schengen area.

Naturally there are concerns the extra time needed for this initial registration will cause long queues and tailbacks at the border.

To help alleviate those likely queues and prevent the subsequent frustration felt by travellers the EU is developing a new smartphone app.

READ ALSO: What will the EES passport system mean for foreigners living in Europe?

The importance of having a working app was summed up by Uku Särekanno, Deputy Executive Director of the EU border agency Frontex in a recent interview.

“Initially, the challenge with the EES will come down to the fact that travellers arriving in Europe will have to have their biographic and biometric data registered in the system – border guards will have to register four of their fingerprints and their facial image. This process will take time, and every second really matters at border crossing points – nobody wants to be stuck in a lengthy queue after a long trip.”

But there is confusion around what the app will actually be able to do, if it will help avoid delays and importantly when will it be available?

So here’s what we know so far.

Who is developing the app?

The EU border agency Frontex is currently developing the app. More precisely, Frontex is developing the back-end part of the app, which will be made available to Schengen countries.

“Frontex is currently developing a prototype of an app that will help speed up this process and allow travellers to share some of the information in advance. This is something we are working on to support the member states, although there is no legal requirement for us to do so,” Uku Särekanno said in the interview.

Will the 29 EES countries be forced to use the app?

No, it is understood that Frontex will make the app available on a voluntary basis. Each government will then decide if, when and where to use it, and develop the front-end part based on its own needs.

This point emerged at a meeting of the House of Commons European scrutiny committee, which is carrying out an inquiry on how EES will impact the UK.

What data will be registered via the app?

The Local asked the European Commission about this. A spokesperson however, said the Commission was not “in a position to disclose further information at this stage” but that travellers’ personal data “will be processed in compliance with the high data security and data protection standards set by EU legislation.”

According to the blog by Matthias Monroy, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP the Frontex app will collect passengers’ name, date of birth, passport number, planned destination and length of stay, reason for travelling, the amount of cash they carry, the availability of a credit card and of a travel health insurance. The app could also allow to take facial images. It will then generate a QR code that travellers can present at border control.

This, however, does not change the fact that fingerprints and facial images will have to be registered in front of a guard at the first crossing into the Schengen area.

So given the need to register finger prints and facial images with a border guard, the question is how and if the app will help avoid those border queues?

When is the app going to be available?

The answer to perhaps the most important question is still unclear.

The Commissions spokesperson told The Local that the app “will be made available for Schengen countries as from the Entry/Exit System start of operations.” The planned launch date is currently October 6th, but there have been several delays in the past and may be another one.

The UK parliamentary committee heard that the prototype of the app should have been ready for EU member states in spring. Guy Opperman, Under-Secretary of State at the UK Department for Transport, said the app will not be available for testing until August “at best” and that the app will not be ready in time for October. The committee previously stated that the app might even be delayed until summer 2025.

Frontex’s Särekanno said in his interview: “Our aim is to have it ready by the end of the summer, so it can then be gradually integrated into national systems starting from early autumn”.

READ ALSO: How do the EES passport checks affect the 90-day rule?

Can the system be launched if the app is not ready?

Yes. The European Commission told The Local that “the availability of the mobile application is not a condition for the Entry/Exit System entry into operation or functioning of the system. The app is only a tool for pre-registration of certain types of data and the system can operate without this pre-registration.”

In addition, “the integration of this app at national level is to be decided by each Schengen country on a voluntary basis – as there is no legal obligation to make use of the app.”

And the UK’s transport under secretary Guy Opperman sounded a note of caution saying the app “is not going to be a panacea to fix all problems”.

When the app will be in use, will it be mandatory for travellers?

There is no indication that the app will become mandatory for those non-EU travellers who need to register for EES. But there will probably be advantages in using it, such as getting access to faster lanes.

As a reminder, non-EU citizens who are resident in the EU are excluded from the EES, as are those with dual nationality for a country using EES. Irish nationals are also exempt even though Ireland will not be using EES because it is not in the Schengen area.

Has the app been tested anywhere yet?

Frontex says the prototype of the app will be tested at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, in Sweden. Matthias Monroy’s website said it was tested last year at Munich Airport in Germany, as well as in Bulgaria and Gibraltar.

According to the German Federal Police, the blog reports, passengers were satisfied and felt “prepared for border control”.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News.