Tuesday, December 5, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

OpenAI sued over data collection practices

Plaintiffs claim the company has stolen people's private data and demonstrated a blatant disregard for humanity.

(CN) — OpenAI is the target of a proposed class action suit filed in federal court Wednesday, in which plaintiffs claim the ChatGPT-maker uses stolen, private information and has demonstrated a disregard for the “catastrophic risk to humanity” its products pose. 

“Defendants have created powerful and wildly profitable AI and released it into the world without regard for the risks,” the complaint filed in the Northern District of California states. ”In so doing, Defendants have created an AI arms race in which defendants and other Big Tech companies are onboarding society into a plane that over half of the surveyed AI experts believe has at least a 10% chance of crashing and killing everyone on board.”

The anonymous plaintiffs say OpenAI unlawfully uses private information from millions of internet users, including minors, without their knowledge or consent. The plaintiffs say that while the company’s products have the potential to do good in the world, the company’s for-profit restructuring in 2019 caused it to abandon its original principles “at the expense of privacy, security, and ethics,” and it them began to secretly scrape the internet of huge amounts of personal and private information.

“Without this unprecedented theft of private and copyrighted information belonging to real people, communicated to unique communities, for specific purposes, targeting specific audiences, the products would not be the multi-billion-dollar business they are today,” the complaint states.

“Once trained on stolen data, defendants saw the immediate profit potential and rushed the products to market without implementing proper safeguards or controls to ensure that they would not produce or support harmful or malicious content and conduct that could further violate the law, infringe rights, and endanger lives. Without these safeguards, the products have already demonstrated their ability to harm humans, in real ways.” it adds.  

Beyond privacy concerns, the plaintiffs say the technology coupled with the company’s practices pose a major risk to society, and note that experts believe that swift legal intervention is required to prevent AI from acting against the interests and values of humans. 

“A nontrivial number of experts claim the risks to humanity presented by the products outweigh even those of the Manhattan Project’s development of nuclear weapons,” the complaint states.  

The nearly 160-page complaint references a statement made by OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman at a 2015 conference to demonstrate the company’s alleged disregard for such risks: “AI will probably most likely lead to the end of the world, but in the meantime, there’ll be great companies,” he said.

The plaintiffs, represented by the Clarkson Law Firm, are asking the court to temporarily freeze commercial access to and development of the AI products until OpenAI completes certain tasks. Those include the establishment of an independent council that approves uses of the company’s products before they’re released for those purposes; the implementation of cybersecurity safeguards and accountability and transparency protocols; and the establishment of a fund to compensate class members for the alleged misconduct.

The plaintiffs are also asking the court to require OpenAI to allow users of its products to opt out of data collection and to add safety measures “that will prevent the technology from surpassing human intelligence and harming others.”

OpenAi did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Microsoft, which has invested billions in OpenAI, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

On Thursday, two writers hit OpenAI with a copyright infringement suit, claiming the company fed their books to its ChatGPT products to train the machine — and did so without their permission.

Categories / Law, Technology

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.