China denies local tech giants the right to offer ChatGPT-like services
- Tencent Holdings and Ant Group have been instructed not to offer access to ChatGPT services on their platforms, either directly or via third parties.
- Chinese regulators want tech companies to report to regulators if they intend to launch their own ChatGPT-like services.
- State media labels the chatbot as the US government’s tool for spreading ‘misinformation.’
When Microsoft-backed OpenAI launched ChatGPT, they made it available for everyone except for users in China. Yet, it attracted huge interest among the local population, with firms rushing to integrate the technology into their products and even launch rival solutions. The frenzy was enough for the authorities to stop Chinese tech giants from pursuing the technology or developing similar products or services.
Sources indicate that just weeks after some of China’s biggest tech firms, including Baidu, Alibaba, JD.com, and NetEase, announced their plans for ChatGPT rivals, officials started showing growing concern over OpenAI’s uncensored nature when replying to user queries. The growing backlash against ChatGPT was further spurred when state-owned media outlet China Daily shared a post on Weibo, China’s heavily censored equivalent of Twitter.
China Daily said that the chatbot “could provide a helping hand to the US government in its spread of disinformation and its manipulation of global narratives for its own geopolitical interests”. Soon after, a report from Nikkei claimed that Chinese regulators have instructed local big tech companies to stop offering products and services that are powered by OpenAI’s ChatGPT technology.
Quoting sources, Nikkei also stated that Tencent Holdings and Ant Group, the fintech affiliate of Alibaba, have been instructed to refrain from offering access to ChatGPT services on their platforms, either directly or via third parties. The sources added that tech companies must also report to regulators before launching their own ChatGPT-like services.
Although ChatGPT is not officially available in China, users can still access the generative AI chatbot using a virtual private network (VPN). There have also been dozens of “mini-programs” released by third-party developers on Tencent’s WeChat social media app that claim to offer services from ChatGPT.
However, regulatory pressure has led Tencent to suspend several third-party services, regardless of whether they were connected to ChatGPT or were just imitations, sources told Nikkei. Many are not surprised by the interference of Chinese regulators, with some saying it was inevitable, especially considering how Chinese Big Tech has been a target of local regulators amid the industry crackdown in recent years.
A person familiar with the matter told Nikkei, “there will inevitably be some users who ask the chatbot politically sensitive questions, but the platform would be held accountable for the results.” For more than two years, China’s digital economy has faced shifting political and regulatory winds. However, since the beginning of this year, Chinese regulators have begun softening their approach to tech giants. At the same time, China started pressing ahead with wide-ranging regulations on deepfakes.
Since January 10 this year, deep synthesis providers – content providers that alter text, audio, images, and video – in China will have to abide by a new set of rules, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). That perhaps gives an idea of what the Chinese Communist Party’s stance would be on a generative AI chatbot, known for its notorious ways of spitting out information and inaccurate data.
Ironically, just last week, China’s capital city released a white paper from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology, stating that the local government will “support leading enterprises to create a large model that is benchmarked against ChatGPT, build an open-source framework, and form a breakthrough in the development of the artificial intelligence industry.”
The paper also states that local government agencies are increasingly opening up data sources for use toward such aims, including public service guides, finance, taxation, and urban management.