VPN downloads skyrocket following Italy ChatGPT ban

A laptop screen on a green background showing the ChatGPT logo
(Image credit: ChatGPT)

Tech fans in Italy have been increasingly downloading the best VPN services as a means to circumvent a block on the popular AI software ChatGPT.

The country's data protection watchdog, known as the Garante, banned the advanced chatbot on April 1, citing privacy concerns. This makes Italy the first Western democracy to block the service, alongside notorious censor governments such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

According to AtlasVPN data, there's been a staggering 400% increase in VPN traffic coming from Italy since the ban has been enforced. Google Trends registered a similar spike, with Italians looking for the word 'VPN' 600 times more.

Italy's ChatGPT block

"Such a surge in VPN usage is a clear example of how technology users respond to restrictions placed on their access to online services and the measures they take to maintain access to them," AtlasVPN wrote in a blog post

The decision to block ChatGPT comes as the Garante found OpenAI responsible of improperly collecting and storing Italians’ data and, consequently, breaching GDPR regulations. The data protection body also warned of the lack of effective age verification procedures, fearing that this could expose minors to inappropriate content.

The Garante is an independent organization, among the first to formally raise concerns over the potential privacy risks of China-owned TikTok. The video-sharing app is currently under growing scrutiny worldwide, risking itself to be banned in the US under the RESTRICT Act.

While OpenAI ensures its commitment to protect users privacy by training its AI systems in reducing personal data collection - the BBC reported - the US-based firm has now 20 days to address such concerns and avoid being fined up to 4% of its annual revenues.

More than 100 million users worldwide have been using ChatGPT since its launch in November last year. At the time of writing, the company is enforcing a basic geoblock to limit ChatGPT access in Italy.

That's exactly where a secure VPN software comes in. By connecting to one of its international servers based where ChatGPT is not banned, users in Italy can keep accessing the popular AI system within seconds.

There's also a possibility that ChatGPT accounts registered in Italy might no longer be available. This means that people in Italy would need to spoof their real IP address location before creating a new profile.

In the meantime, OpenAI has announced a refund for all its Italian users who had already subscribed to its premium plan while halting subscription renewals in the country.

Despite critics to Italy's ChatGPT ban - including the country's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini who tweeted its disapproval the day after the block was enforced - France, Germany and Ireland are also investigating the matter.

If other EU countries would decide to follow Italy's footsteps, further VPN usage spikes might be coming soon. A trend that AtlasVPN said to have seen across other nations as a reaction to bans or other online restrictions. 

"The ChatGPT geoblock in Italy and the subsequent surge in VPN usage highlight that people will try to access the online services they need, despite internet restrictions. This is a powerful reminder of the importance of internet freedom and the role that tools like VPNs can play in ensuring access to information and communication."

Chiara Castro
Senior Staff Writer

Chiara is a multimedia journalist committed to covering stories to help promote the rights and denounce the abuses of the digital side of life—wherever cybersecurity, markets and politics tangle up. She mainly writes news, interviews and analysis on data privacy, online censorship, digital rights, cybercrime, and security software, with a special focus on VPNs, for TechRadar Pro, TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. Got a story, tip-off or something tech-interesting to say? Reach out to chiara.castro@futurenet.com