UK’s antitrust watchdog announces initial review of generative AI


ChatGPT welcome screen
Image Credits: Leon Neal / Getty Images

Well that was fast. The U.K.’s competition watchdog has announced an initial review of “AI foundational models”, such as the large language models (LLMs) which underpin OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s New Bing. Generative AI models which power AI art platforms such as OpenAI’s DALL-E or Midjourney will also likely fall in scope.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said its review will look at competition and consumer protection considerations in the development and use of AI foundational models — with the aim of understanding “how foundation models are developing and producing an assessment of the conditions and principles that will best guide the development of foundation models and their use in the future”.

It’s proposing to publish the review in “early September”, with a deadline of June 2 for interested stakeholders to submit responses to inform its work.

“Foundation models, which include large language models and generative artificial intelligence (AI), that have emerged over the past five years, have the potential to transform much of what people and businesses do. To ensure that innovation in AI continues in a way that benefits consumers, businesses and the UK economy, the government has asked regulators, including the [CMA], to think about how the innovative development and deployment of AI can be supported against five overarching principles: safety, security and robustness; appropriate transparency and explainability; fairness; accountability and governance; and contestability and redress,” the CMA wrote in a press release.”

Stanford University’s Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence Center’s Center for Research on Foundation Models is credited with coining the term “foundational models”, back in 2021, to refer to AI systems that focus on training one model on a huge amount of data and adapting it to many applications.

“The development of AI touches upon a number of important issues, including safety, security, copyright, privacy, and human rights, as well as the ways markets work. Many of these issues are being considered by government or other regulators, so this initial review will focus on the questions the CMA is best placed to address — what are the likely implications of the development of AI foundation models for competition and consumer protection?” the CMA added.

In a statement, its CEO, Sarah Cardell, also said:

AI has burst into the public consciousness over the past few months but has been on our radar for some time. It’s a technology developing at speed and has the potential to transform the way businesses compete as well as drive substantial economic growth.

It’s crucial that the potential benefits of this transformative technology are readily accessible to UK businesses and consumers while people remain protected from issues like false or misleading information. Our goal is to help this new, rapidly scaling technology develop in ways that ensure open, competitive markets and effective consumer protection.

Specifically, the U.K. competition regulator said its initial review of AI foundational models will:

  • examine how the competitive markets for foundation models and their use could evolve
  • explore what opportunities and risks these scenarios could bring for competition and consumer protection
  • produce guiding principles to support competition and protect consumers as AI foundation models develop

While it may seen early for the antitrust regulator to conduct a review of such a fast-moving emerging technology the CMA is acting on government instruction.

An AI white paper published in March signalled ministers’ preference to avoid setting any bespoke rules (or oversight bodies) to govern uses of artificial intelligence at this stage. However ministers said existing U.K. regulators — including the CMA, which was directly name-checked — would be expected to issue guidance to encourage safe, fair and accountable uses of AI.

UK to avoid fixed rules for AI – in favor of ‘context-specific guidance’

The CMA says its initial review of foundational AI models is in line with instructions in the white paper, where the government talked about existing regulators conducting “detailed risk analysis” in order to be in a position to carry out potential enforcements, i.e. on dangerous, unfair and unaccountable applications of AI, using their existing powers.

The regulator also points to its core mission — to support open, competitive markets — as another reason for taking a look at generative AI now.

Notably, the competition watchdog is set to get additional powers to regulate Big Tech in the coming years, under plans taken off the back-burner by prime minister Rishi Sunak’s government last month, when ministers said it would move forward with a long-trailed (but much delayed) ex ante reform aimed at digital giants’ market power.

The expectation is that the CMA’s Digital Markets Unit, up and running since 2021 in shadow form, will (finally) gain legislative powers in the coming years to apply pro-active “pro-competition” rules which are tailored to platforms that are deemed to have “strategic market status” (SMS). So we can speculate that providers of powerful foundational AI models may, down the line, be judged to have SMS — meaning they could expect to face bespoke rules on how they must operate vis-a-vis rivals and consumers in the U.K. market.

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog, the ICO, also has its eye on generative AI. It’s another existing oversight body which the government has tasked with paying special mind to AI under its plan for context-specific guidance to steer development of the tech through the application of existing laws.

In a blog post last month, Stephen Almond, the ICO’s executive director of regulatory risk, offered some tips and a little warning for developers of generative AI when it comes to compliance with U.K. data protection rules. “Organisations developing or using generative AI should be considering their data protection obligations from the outset, taking a data protection by design and by default approach,” he suggested. “This isn’t optional — if you’re processing personal data, it’s the law.”

Over the English Channel in the European Union, meanwhile, lawmakers are in the process of deciding a fixed set of rules that are likely to apply to generative AI.

Negotiations toward a final text for the EU’s incoming AI rulebook are ongoing — but currently there’s a focus on how to regulate foundational models via amendments to the risk-based framework for regulating uses of AI the bloc published in draft over two years ago.

It remains to be seen where the EU’s co-legislators will end up on what’s sometimes also referred to as general purpose AI. But, as we reported recently, parliamentarians are pushing for a layered approach to tackle safety issues with foundational models; the complexity of responsibilities across AI supply chains; and to address specific content concerns (like copyright) which are associated with generative AI.

Add to that, EU data protection law already applies to AI, of course. And privacy-focused investigations of models like ChatGPT are underway in the bloc — including in Italy where an intervention by the local watchdog led to OpenAI rushing out a series of privacy disclosures and controls last month.

The European Data Protection Board also recently set up a task force to support coordination between different data protection authorities on investigations of the AI chatbot. Others investigating ChatGPT include Spain’s privacy watchdog.

Microsoft doubles down on AI with new Bing features

EU lawmakers eye tiered approach to regulating generative AI

More TechCrunch

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine