China bans its big tech companies from providing ChatGPT service
Regulators in China have told big tech companies in the country not to offer ChatGPT services to the public, according to a report from Nikkei Asia.
The report comes amid growing fears in the country that the AI chatbot, developed by Microsoft-backed OpenAI, is generating replies that would otherwise be censored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Several Chinese firms are also working on their own versions of ChatGPT, with some saying they are on the verge of releasing public versions.
Is ChatGPT banned in China?
China has a history of blocking foreign websites. The country's government banned Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter between 2009 and 2010. It also banned Reddit and Wikipedia between 2018 and 2019.
Now, Tencent Holdings and Ant Group, the fintech affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding, have been instructed not to offer access to ChatGPT via their platforms, according to the Nikkei Asia report. Tech companies in China will also have to report to regulators before launching any ChatGPT-like services.
ChatGPT is not officially available in China, though some internet users have been able to access the AI chatbot service by using a virtual private network (VPN).
Many third parties have also released more basic versions of AI chatbots — via Tencent's WeChat social media app — as ChatGPT continues to gain news coverage worldwide due to its impressive writing and search abilities. The report suggests that Tencent has suspended several of these third-party services due to regulatory pressure.
ChatGPT could reply to questions about "sensitive topics"
The latest move by regulators in China comes after state-owned media outlet China Daily said in a post on social media platform Weibo that ChatGPT "could provide a helping hand to the U.S. government in its spread of disinformation and its manipulation of global narratives for its own geopolitical interests."
In an interview with The Guardian, Dr Ilaria Carrozza, a senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, said "OpenAI didn’t allow people in China to register, so there were some barriers, but it wasn't fully blocked. The model is trained on open information based in western countries. Potentially it raises a lot of issues [for the Chinese government], because people could have used it to raise questions about sensitive topics, like human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Taiwan, the Diaoyu islands."
Chinese tech giant Baidu recently announced it is in the final stages of testing for its ChatGPT-like service called "Ernie Bot". However, that service will likely be integrated into Baidu's products to begin with instead of being used as a regular chatbot.
Verena Mohaupt, logistics coordinator of MOSAiC, Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate, talks about the perilous journey.