FTC chair: AI models could violate antitrust laws

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Lina Khan said Wednesday that companies that train their artificial intelligence (A) models on data from news websites, artists’ creations or people’s personal information could be in violation of antitrust laws.

At The Wall Street Journal’s “Future of Everything Festival,” Khan said the FTC is examining ways in which major companies’ data scraping could hinder competition or potentially violate people’s privacy rights.

“The FTC Act prohibits unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” Khan said at the event. ”So, you can imagine, if somebody’s content or information is being scraped that they have produced, and then is being used in ways to compete with them and to dislodge them from the market and divert businesses, in some cases, that could be an unfair method of competition.”

Khan said concern also lies in companies using people’s data without their knowledge or consent, which can also raise legal concerns.

“We’ve also seen a lot of concern about deception, about unfairness, if firms are making one set of representations when you’re signing up to use them, but then are secretly or quietly using the data you’re feeding them — be it your personal data, be it, if you’re a business, your proprietary data, your competitively significant data — if they’re then using that to feed their models, to compete with you, to abuse your privacy, that can also raise legal concerns,” she said.

Khan also recognized people’s concerns about companies retroactively changing their terms of service to let them use customers’ content, including personal photos or family videos, to feed into their AI models.

“I think that’s where people feel a sense of violation, that that’s not really what they signed up for and oftentimes, they feel that they don’t have recourse,” Khan said.

“Some of these services are essential for navigating day to day life,” she continued, “and so, if the choice — ‘choice’ — you’re being presented with is: sign off on not just being endlessly surveilled, but all of that data being fed into these models, or forego using these services entirely, I think that’s a really tough spot to put people in.”

Khan said she thinks many government agencies have an important role to play as AI continues to develop, saying, “I think in Washington, there’s increasingly a recognition that we can’t, as a government, just be totally hands off and stand out of the way.”

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