The complaint alleges OpenAI scraped personal information and professional expertise from the internet without permission to feed its AI models.

The ChatGPT logo on a phone in front of the OpenAI logo.
Image: gguy/Adobe Stock

A product engineer and a software engineer are bringing OpenAI and its primary supporter Microsoft to San Francisco federal court with claims of stolen personal data, Reuters reported on September 6.

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What is the OpenAI class action lawsuit?

The plaintiffs, who are known only as A.T. and J.H. in the complaint, claim OpenAI used their personal information scraped from the internet to train generative artificial intelligence tools, such as ChatGPT. Specifically, it claims OpenAI used personal data from social media, stealing their “skills and expertise” in order to make products that could “someday result in [their] professional obsolescence.”

SEE: OpenAI recently announced ChatGPT Enterprise, which they say handles business data securely. (TechRepublic)

The plaintiffs request that OpenAI and Microsoft make meaningful safeguards against the use of private data and add ethical guardrails. The plaintiffs also asked for an unspecified amount of money in damages.

According to the complaint, OpenAI can “unlawfully obtain access to and intercept this information [everything from physical location to keystrokes] from the individual users of applications and devices that have integrated ChatGPT-4.”

“Plaintiff J.H. reasonably expected that the information that he exchanged with these websites prior to their introduction would not be intercepted by any third party looking to compile and use all his information and data for commercial purposes,” the complaint reads.

The latest legal action brought against OpenAI and Microsoft

This is the second lawsuit to cover some of the same ground. In June, the Clarkson Law Firm brought a similar complaint against OpenAI and Microsoft. The September complaint, filed by the personal injury firm Morgan & Morgan, quotes extensively from the complaint made in June.

Creative writers have brought lawsuits against OpenAI for scraping and profiting off of their writing through incorporating it into the massive amount of data on which a generative AI model is trained.

For example, comedian Sarah Silverman sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement in July, and authors Mona Awad and Paul Tremblay filed a suit against OpenAI in July for allegedly training ChatGPT using their books.

In August, the New York Times revealed it was considering suing OpenAI to maintain intellectual property rights to the newspaper’s articles. The Times and OpenAI had originally been in talks regarding OpenAI paying the newspaper to use its content in AI tools. However, according to NPR’s anonymous sources, the conversation became a high-profile fight over how generative AI should be allowed to use writers’ original work.

OpenAI’s shifting priorities and Microsoft’s involvement

The complaint notes a change in OpenAI’s stated goals around 2019, when it switched from a nonprofit dedicated to AI research to a for-profit, commercial model.

OpenAI was founded in 2015 with a stated goal of “advanc[ing] digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.”

Microsoft entered the mix in 2016, when the Redmond tech giant joined on a plan to “democratize” AI technology. OpenAI has shifted to a for-profit model as of March 2019 to try to raise more funds. Subsequently, OpenAI entered a partnership with Microsoft specifically to develop artificial general intelligence (theoretical human-level intelligence). Since then, Microsoft has invested billions in the AI company in support of a variety of products and platforms.


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