OpenAI and ChatGPT are being sued for defamation over claims the AI chatbot falsely identified a man in an ongoing criminal case involving a pro-gun foundation and the embezzlement of funds.
It’s the first lawsuit of its kind filed against the Microsoft-backed OpenAI and could set a precedent for future cases brought against the California-based tech company.
According to the lawsuit, ChatGPT erroneously identifies the man – US citizen Mark Walters – as the Chief Financial Officer of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), a pro-gun group in Washington state.
The AI chatbot also names Walters as the defendant in the case, accused of embezzling funds and defrauding the activist foundation, and claims he held the position of CFO for over a decade.
Walters’ filing states ChatGPT returned the false information about him after a local journalist covering the case in Washington state requested a summary of the lawsuit from the AI model.
What’s disturbing about this latest ChatGPT hallucination is that Walters’ name – or anything even close to his name – is never mentioned in any of the legal briefs or court filings associated with the so-called criminal case.
Moreover, Walters, happens to live on the other side of the country, roughly 2,682 miles (4316 km) from Washington, in the southeastern state of Georgia where he works as the CEO and radio host of a local media outlet there.
“Walters is neither a plaintiff nor a defendant in the Lawsuit… Every statement of fact in the [ChatGPT] summary pertaining to Walters is false,” the filing said.
It's a case, about a case, about a case
Georgia lawyers also point out that not only did ChatGPT falsely identify Walters in its summary, but the case itself – The Second Amendment Foundation v. Robert Ferguson – “has nothing at all to do with financial accounting claims against anyone.”
The ChatGPT summary “is a complete fabrication and bears no resemblance to the actual complaint, including an erroneous case number,” Walter’s lawyers wrote.
The civil complaint in question is actually about the SAF's thorny relationship with the Washington State Attorney General's office and accusations of harassment.
Walters only became aware of ChatGPT’s false allegations after the journalist contacted him to fact check the story.
The suit accuses OpenAI of negligence, libel, and that the tech company "recklessly disregarded the falsity of the communication" between ChatGPT and the journalist.
“OAI is aware that ChatGPT sometimes makes up facts and refers to this phenomenon as a ‘hallucination,’” the filing states.
The suit claims “ChatGPT’s allegations concerning Walters were false and malicious… tending to injure Walter’s (sic) reputation and exposing him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule.”
Lawyers have requested a jury trial and any damages awarded to Walters to be determined by the courts.
ChatGPT hallucination woes
OpenAI and its ChatGPT protege have been facing intense scrutiny since its November 2022 launch over false information, how it processes data, and questionable privacy practices.
In April, OpenAI was served a cease and desist letter over alleged statements claiming privacy advocate Alexander Hanff, from Sweden, was actually deceased.
Hanff, who was very much alive at the time, and still is, posted about the ordeal on Twitter.
Around the same time, Italy banned ChatGPT for almost a month over growing privacy concerns and data leaks, while a handful of other EU nations have since launched their own investigations into possible violations.
OpenAI’s founder and CEO Sam Altman has been making the rounds in Europe over the past few weeks to discuss privacy concerns and AI regulations, at one point threatening to pull ChatGPT out of the European market.
Altman has met with several EU leaders and representatives from government organizations there, including the EU Parliament, Council, Commission, and the European Data Protection Board, Europe’s privacy watchdog.
ChatGPT just recently upped its tally of estimated users from 100 million this January to over 800 million this June, with no signs of slowing down any time soon.
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