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OpenAI, Microsoft, Google limiting AI chatbot access in Hong Kong: report

ChatGPT creator OpenAI and other US tech giants are reportedly limiting access to their AI chatbots in Hong Kong – where pro-democracy protesters have faced harsh crackdowns and censorship from the Chinese Communist Party in the last few years.

OpenAI, Microsoft and Google have all restricted access to their respective chatbot services for Hong-Kong-based users in recent months, the Wall Street Journal reported.

None of the companies have provided a formal explanation for the move – though experts told the Journal that the firms are likely wary of running afoul of a widely-criticized national security law that allows the Chinese government to censor content and crackdown on dissent in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.

“We don’t have the Great Firewall yet, but companies aren’t offering their services,” Heatherm Huang, co-founder of Hong Kong-based tech firm Measurable AI, told the outlet. “Overall, it’s a sad story.”

Representatives for Google, OpenAI and Microsoft “declined to comment on why they restricted use in Hong Kong, but said they are working to bring their services to new locations in the future,” according to the Journal.

ChatGPT has exploded in popularity this year.

The Post has reached out for comment.

The widening crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong was on full display last week, when officials sought to block online platforms from hosting a popular protest song titled “Glory to Hong Kong.”

Local authorities sought a court injunction to block 32 videos of the song that were posted on YouTube. Hong Kong’s government has also attempted to block Google from displaying the anthem in its search results – a demand that the US tech giant has denied.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong authorities are attempting to crack down on a popular protest anthem.

Sam Altman
Sam Altman is CEO of ChatGPT creator OpenAI.

In the US, tech firms have faced sharp criticism from congressional lawmakers, especially Republicans, for complying with China’s censorship demands. For example, Apple has faced criticism for complying with Chinese censorship laws within its App Store despite repeatedly asserting its commitment to human rights.

The Chinese government has a long history of censoring online discussion and the use of non-approved social media platforms. Alphabet-owned YouTube, Instagram and Twitter and other foreign social media apps are blocked in mainland China.  

The report noted that some Hong Kong residents are still accessing the chatbot services through the use of virtual private networks, or VPNs, which allows users to mask their online identity and location, or through the use of other third-party apps.

Hong Kong
The Chinese Communist Party is attempting to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

In February, Nikkei Asia reported that Chinese regulators had instructed the company’s major tech companies, including Tencent Holdings and Ant Group, not to support ChatGPT on their platforms due to concerns about uncensored content appearing in its responses to user queries.

Despite OpenAI’s restriction of access to ChatGPT in Hong Kong and mainland China, the company’s CEO Sam Altman called for increased collaboration between the US and China on the development of AI during a virtual weekend appearance at a Beijing conference.

“China has some of the best AI talent in the world,” Altman said, according to the Journal. “So I really hope Chinese AI researchers will make great contributions here.”

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