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OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google have slammed the brakes on offering their chatbot services in Hong Kong, a region currently wrestling with increased Chinese government censorship on free speech, according to the Wall Street Journal.
These tech titans’ united withdrawal raises eyebrows, hinting at their possible unease with the stringent national security law in place. Insiders think they’re tactfully avoiding getting bogged down in China’s infamous censorship maze.
Quoting Heatherm Huang, a major player in Hong Kong’s tech community, who said, “We don’t have the Great Firewall yet, but companies aren’t offering their services,” and added, “Overall, it’s a sad story.”
The silent treatment: Google, Microsoft, and OpenAI keep their cards close to their chest on the rationale behind the move but offer a glimmer of optimism. The Wall Street Journal reports that they are keeping their options open by “working to bring their services to new locations in the future.”
The chilling reality: The scale of censorship in Hong Kong is coming to the fore with audacious moves like the government’s bid to stifle “Glory to Hong Kong,” a protest anthem, through court orders and appeals to Google to erase it from searches.
Be smart: US tech heavyweights are not just facing challenges abroad; they’re under the microscope back home. Congress, especially Republicans, are calling them out for seemingly kowtowing to China’s demands. Apple, for one, is taking heat for bowing to Chinese censorship on its App Store while flaunting a human rights banner.
Context: China’s Great Firewall, notorious for its iron-fisted censorship policies, has no room for international social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.
Workarounds: Resourceful Hong Kong residents aren’t entirely isolated from chatbot services as they maneuver around the barriers using virtual private networks (VPNs) and alternative apps.
Worthy of note: In a surprising move, Chinese regulators in February gave a stern warning to domestic tech giants such as Tencent Holdings and Ant Group against endorsing ChatGPT, citing concerns over unfiltered content.
Meanwhile: OpenAI’s captain, Sam Altman, recently gave kudos to China’s AI expertise at a virtual conference in Beijing and voiced his enthusiasm for bolstering Sino-US ties in AI. “China has some of the best AI talent in the world,” Altman remarked. “So I really hope Chinese AI researchers will make great contributions here.”