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Chat GPT: AI Text Generation and Data Privacy


The expanding use of artificial intelligence (AI) in text generation is witnessing a surge across various sectors. From generating student reports, crafting patient emails and treatment plans, to writing referral letters, the applications appear endless.

Chat GPT, a revolutionary AI language model developed by Open AI, is particularly notable for its capacity to create text that can often pass for human-written prose. However, with these promising benefits comes a substantial hazard that is often overlooked: the potential violation of data privacy and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 .

The Fine Line: Personal Data in AI Text Generation

When using AI language models like Chat GPT, users often input data 'as is', forgetting to depersonalise it. Consequently, the prompts supplied to the AI system can wind up stored in a database, potentially thousands of miles away. While this may seem harmless at first glance, it can pose serious privacy concerns, especially when the data fed into the system contains personal information or 'special categories of personal data' as defined by the UK GDPR.

Example of an inadvertent data leak: a periodontist asks Chat GPT to help them reply to a dentist:

more…


Pseudonymisation: A Double-edged Sword

To mitigate these risks, ideally the prompt will be carefully picked through to delete any personally identifiable information (if the person using Chat GPT remembers).

Data pseudonymisation is sometimes used. Pseudonymisation is a process that replaces or removes information that identifies an individual. The data can no longer be attributed to a specific person without additional information, kept separately under strict technical and organisational measures.

Pseudonymised data, while increasing the security level and reducing risks to data subjects, is still personal data under the UK GDPR.

This raises the issue: When you input pseudonymised data into an AI language model, are you unknowingly creating a potential pathway to re-identify individuals? Moreover, is there a danger that this additional information, necessary to re-identify a person, could be derived from the AI's generated text?


AI and Data Protection: Navigating the Minefield

The implications of these privacy concerns are profound. For instance, imagine a healthcare professional using an AI model like Chat GPT to craft a treatment plan. If the prompt contains pseudonymised data, which ends up in a distant database, we're potentially looking at a breach of the UK GDPR and the patient's privacy.

Similarly, educational institutions using AI for generating student reports, or replying to parental concerns, might inadvertently disclose personal information or sensitive educational data.

These examples bring us to an essential question: how do we leverage the benefits of AI-powered text generation without compromising data privacy? This is a critical concern, particularly given the increasing ubiquity of AI in daily tasks and the heightened emphasis on data privacy and protection under regulations like the UK GDPR.

In this brave new world of AI-assisted text generation, it's incumbent on us to tread carefully, and this may require pro-active management of employees. As we navigate this terrain, we must ensure that our desire for efficiency and innovation does not overshadow our obligation to protect personal data, preserve privacy, and uphold the legal standards that govern our actions.

Employers will never be able to prevent their staff from using Chat GPT to help them in their work. They need to create an environment where it can be used safely and openly without fear, within a set of guidelines.

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