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Microsoft briefly restricted employee access to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, citing security concerns

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 06, 2023 in San Francisco, California. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman delivered the keynote address at the first ever Open AI DevDay conference.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI. But for a brief time on Thursday, employees of the software company weren’t allowed to use the startup’s most famous product, ChatGPT, CNBC has learned.

“Due to security and data concerns a number of AI tools are no longer available for employees to use,” Microsoft said in an update on an internal website. CNBC also viewed a screenshot that showed that ChatGPT couldn’t be accessed on corporate devices.

Microsoft and OpenAI representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

“While it is true that Microsoft has invested in OpenAI, and that ChatGPT has built-in safeguards to prevent improper use, the website is nevertheless a third-party external service,” Microsoft said. “That means you must exercise caution using it due to risks of privacy and security. This goes for any other external AI services, such as Midjourney or Replika, as well.”

The company initially said it was banning ChatGPT and design software Canva, but later removed a line in the advisory that included those products. After initial publication of this story, Microsoft reinstated access to ChatGPT.

In a statement to CNBC, Microsoft said the ChatGPT temporary blockage was a mistake resulting from a test of systems for large language models.

“We were testing endpoint control systems for LLMs and inadvertently turned them on for all employees,” a spokesperson said. “We restored service shortly after we identified our error. As we have said previously, we encourage employees and customers to use services like Bing Chat Enterprise and ChatGPT Enterprise that come with greater levels of privacy and security protections.”

Many large companies have restricted use of ChatGPT, often to prevent the sharing of confidential data. Having been trained on extensive internet data, ChatGPT composes human-like responses to people’s chat messages. The service has over 100 million users.

Microsoft’s update recommends people use the company’s own Bing Chat tool, which relies on OpenAI artificial intelligence models. The two companies are closely tied. Microsoft has also been busy this year bringing out updates to its Windows operating system and Office applications that take advantage of OpenAI services, which in turn run on Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure.

Earlier this week, CEO Satya Nadella appeared onstage alongside OpenAI’s Sam Altman at the startup’s first developer conference.

Altman wrote in a post on X late Thursday that, “the rumors that we are blocking microsoft 365 in retaliation are completely unfounded.”

In January a high-ranking Microsoft engineer wrote in a forum that employees could use ChatGPT but advised against entering confidential information, Insider reported.

Earlier this week, a hacking group called Anonymous Sudan said it targeted ChatGPT in an attack because of “OpenAI’s cooperation with the occupation state of Israel” and because Altman said he’s “willing to invest into Israel more.”

WATCH: OpenAI on pace for $1.3 billion in 2023 revenue, up 4543% from last year

OpenAI on pace for $1.3 billion in 2023 revenue, up 4543% from last year

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