British Columbia

More Canadian privacy authorities investigating ChatGPT's use of personal information

Four federal and provincial privacy authorities in Canada have launched an investigation into OpenAI, the company behind artificial intelligence-powered chatbot ChatGPT, after receiving a complaint about the company's disclosure of personal information.

Investigation will examine if OpenAI got 'valid and meaningful' information-sharing consent from Canadians

A look at a laptop screen with a question and an AI-generated answer.
ChatGPT's answer to the question 'What can AI offer to humanity?' seen on a laptop screen in February in London, England. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Federal and provincial privacy authorities in Canada are pursuing a joint investigation into OpenAI, the company that makes ChatGPT, after receiving a complaint about the firm's disclosure of personal information.

A statement on Thursday said provincial authorities in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec have joined the investigation launched by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada in April because the issue affects people across the country.

"Given the broad scope and significant privacy impact of artificial intelligence and its relevance to all Canadians, the four offices have decided to jointly investigate the matter," the statement read.

The complaint that sparked the investigation claimed the company unlawfully collected, used and disclosed personal information without consent through ChatGPT, its artificial intelligence-powered chatbot.

The investigation will examine whether OpenAI received "valid and meaningful" information-sharing consent from ChatGPT users based in Canada. It will also look at whether the company used information for unreasonable or illegitimate reasons.

The statement said privacy offices often work together on issues with nationwide implications because privacy laws in all four provinces are "substantially similar" to federal legislation.

CBC News has contacted OpenAI for comment.

OpenAI is a California-based research and development firm co-founded by Elon Musk. Its backers include Microsoft and billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who was one of the first outside investors in Facebook.

ChatGPT is a program that has captivated users by generating conversational, human-like responses when users type in questions or tasks — from drafting awkward emails to writing complex computer code and and planning summer vacations.

The cutting-edge software has drawn privacy and misinformation concerns elsewhere since its launch in November. Italy became the first country to temporarily ban the program by government order after its own data protection authority launched an investigation in April over the app's suspected breach of privacy rules.

'Toothpaste is out of the squeeze-tube'

Elected officials and experts said Thursday that governments need to take urgent action to protect Canadians' data before the investigation is complete.

B.C. Citizens' Services Minister Lisa Beare says British Columbians deserve the confidence of knowing their data is being protected as artificial intelligence proliferates.

"We're eager to see the results of that investigation and are open to discussions about how we can best complement the work that the privacy commissioners are doing across the country," Beare said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

Federal Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada is leading the way for data security amid "tremendous change in the AI landscape" and urged the passaged of Bill C-27 to create a digital charter for Canadians.

"We realized months ago that we need to protect Canadians with respect to their data," Champagne said in an unrelated news conference in Vancouver on Thursday.

A ChatGPT prompt is shown on a mobile device near a public school in Brooklyn, New York.
The complaint that sparked the investigation into OpenAI claimed the company collected, used and disclosed personal information without consent.  (Peter Morgan/The Associated Press/The Canadian Press)

But some legislators and experts say authorities in Canada still aren't doing enough to protect citizens' data from misuse and exploitation.

B.C. has already acted too late to prevent many data breaches but it can still be proactive with the new challenges posed by artificial intelligence, said Jason Woywada, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

"It's great to see this type of investigation taking place," he told CBC News on Thursday. "The issue here is that... we are again chasing an issue after the toothpaste is out of the squeeze-tube."

B.C. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen is calling on the province to launch an all-party task force to issue recommendations before the investigation into OpenAI is concluded.

"We have information and privacy laws that are outdated and reactive rather than proactive," said Olsen.

ChatGPT is not available in China, Iran, North Korea or Russia because OpenAI did not make it accessible in those countries.

With files from Reuters and Meera Bains