IN-DEPTH: Why Are Canadian Privacy Commissioners Worried About ChatGPT?

IN-DEPTH: Why Are Canadian Privacy Commissioners Worried About ChatGPT?
A smartphone with a displayed ChatGPT logo is placed on a computer motherboard in this illustration taken on Feb. 23, 2023. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Peter Wilson

Canada’s federal privacy commissioner and several of his provincial counterparts are in the midst of an investigation into the artificial intelligence (AI) company that makes ChatGPT because of a confidential complaint alleging the technology has been violating Canadians’ privacy.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that U.S.-based OpenAI engaged in “the collection, use and disclosure of personal information without consent,” according to a press release issued by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) on April 4.

The OPC has not released further details as the investigation is ongoing.

Each of the offices of the Alberta, Quebec, and British Columbia privacy commissioners, as well as the OPCissued press releases on May 25 announcing that they will jointly investigate the company behind ChatGPT.
The Alberta information and privacy commissioner’s office didn’t mention in its release that it joined the probe as a result of a complaint. However, both the Quebec and British Columbia privacy authorities referenced the complaint mentioned by the federal privacy watchdog.
“Given the broad scope and significant privacy impact of artificial intelligence and its relevance to all Canadians, the four offices have decided to jointly investigate the matter,” said the B.C. information and privacy commissioner’s office on May 25.

The Epoch Times asked the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO) if it also plans to join the investigation, and it said Ontario “does not have its own private sector privacy law covering private sector organizations.”

As a result, the IPCO said it has called on the provincial government to establish “clear and binding rules around the public sector’s use of AI technologies, including ChatGPT.”

“Our office will be following the federal investigation, given the significant impact of artificial intelligence on privacy.”


Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT uses information available across the internet to provide detailed responses to users’ inquiries. The platform has been used to complete numerous tasks, including debugging computer programs, writing essays, and simulating chat rooms, among many others.

The platform has grown rapidly since its introduction. Two months after being launched by OpenAI, ChatGPT had an estimated 100 million active monthly users, making it the fastest-growing consumer platform in history.

The Epoch Times asked the OPC for further details of the investigation’s nature as well as clarification of whether the complaint made against ChatGPT took issue with the platform’s general operations or with a specific instance of privacy violation.

Tobi Cohen, the OPC’s senior communications adviser, said federal Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne decided to launch the investigation after considering the level of risk that the complaint’s subject matter posed to the privacy of Canadians.

Prior to initiating the investigation in early April, Cohen said the OPC considered the general impact that ChatGPT could post to Canadians’ privacy rights, along with “the impact on affected individuals, the scope of the actions of the organization in question, and whether the matter involves novel or systemic issues warranting examination.”

Cohen said Dufresne has also “expanded” the investigation’s scope in addition to carrying it out with some other provinces.

In particular, the investigation will now examine if OpenAI “obtained valid and meaningful consent for the collection, use and disclosure of the personal information of individuals based in Canada via ChatGPT,” and also if it has maintained “its obligations with respect to openness and transparency, access, accuracy, and accountability.”

Lastly, the privacy commissioners will seek to determine if OpenAI has acted in a way that a “reasonable person would consider appropriate, reasonable or legitimate in the circumstances, and whether this collection is limited to information that is necessary for these purposes.”

The Epoch Times contacted OpenAI for comment and asked what specific information ChatGPT collects from its users, but didn’t hear back before press time.


OpenAI CEO Sam Altman appeared before a U.S. Senate hearing on May 16 to discuss the potential effects of ChatGPT on the broader economy and whether the federal government should consider intervening with legislation, as some European lawmakers have done.

Altman acknowledged public concerns surrounding ChatGPT and its most recent iteration, GPT-4. He said OpenAI shares some of those concerns, but noted it’s important to understand that GPT-4 “is a tool, not a creature.”

He said that while ChatGPT will do away with some jobs, he believes it will replace them with “far greater jobs.”

“GPT-4 and other systems like it are good at doing tasks, not jobs, and so you see already people that are using GPT-4 to do their job much more efficiently,” Altman said at the hearing.

“GPT-4 will, I think, entirely automate away some jobs, and it will create new ones that we believe will be much better.”

He went on to say that he believes federal governments have a role to play in facilitating this change.

“There will be an impact on jobs. We try to be very clear about that, and I think it will require partnership between the industry and government, but mostly action by government to figure out how we want to mitigate that.”

TikTok Privacy Investigation

A number of Canada’s provincial privacy commissioners along with the OPC are also investigating the Beijing-linked video-sharing app TikTok over concerns that its data collection practices may violate its users’ privacy.
The OPC said in a Feb. 23 news release that—along with the privacy authorities for British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec—it will be examining if TikTok’s data-collection practices are compliant with Canadian privacy legislation and if the application obtains valid and meaningful consent before collection, using, and disclosing users’ personal information.

A TikTok spokesperson previously told The Epoch Times that it is “committed to operating with transparency to earn and maintain the trust of the many Canadians who create and find joy on our platform.”

The privacy commissioners undertook the investigation, which is still ongoing, just days before Ottawa banned TikTok effective Feb. 28 on all federal government-issued devices over concerns that the app’s data collection methods leave users open to cyber attacks.
The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, and Matthew Horwood contributed to this report.