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What Is GPTBot and Why Are Websites Blocking It?

Key Takeaways

  • OpenAI’s GPTBot is a web crawler designed to gather data from public websites, which is then used to train and improve AI models like GPT-4 and ChatGPT.
  • Some of the biggest websites on the internet are blocking GPTBot because it accesses and uses copyrighted content without permission or compensation to the creators.
  • While websites can use tools like robots.txt to try to block GPTBot, there are no guarantees that OpenAI will comply, giving them control over accessing copyrighted data.

In August 2023, OpenAI, the AI powerhouse credited with developing ChatGPT, announced GPTBot, a web crawler designed to traverse the web and gather data.

Not long after that announcement, some of the biggest websites on the internet blocked the bot from accessing their website. But why? What is OpenAI’s GPTBot? Why are the big websites afraid of it, and why are they trying to block it?

What Is OpenAI’s GPTBot?

Picture AI graphic with Black Box

GPTBot is a web crawler created by OpenAI to search the internet and gather information for OpenAI’s AI development goals. It is programmed to crawl public websites and send the data back to OpenAI’s servers. OpenAI then uses this data to train and improve its AI models, with the goal of building increasingly advanced artificial intelligence systems. To build sophisticated AI models like GPT-4 or its child products like ChatGPT, web crawlers are almost indispensable.

Training an AI model requires an enormous amount of data, and one of the most effective ways to gather this data is by deploying tools like web crawlers. Crawlers can systematically browse the web, follow links to index large volumes of webpages, and extract key data like text, images, and metadata that matches a predefined pattern.

This data can then be structured and fed into AI models to train their natural language processing abilities or image generation abilities or train them for other AI tasks. In order words, web crawlers gather the data that makes it possible for tools like ChatGPT or DALL-E to do what they do.

Web crawlers are not a new concept. There are probably millions of them crawling the billions of websites available on the internet today. And they have been around since at least the early 90s. GPTBot is just one of such crawlers owned by OpenAI. So, what’s causing the controversy around this particular web crawler?

Why Are Big Tech Sites Blocking GPTBot?

stop sign on the road side

According to Business Insider, some of the largest websites on the internet are actively blocking OpenAI’s crawler on their website. So, if the ultimate goal of GPTBot is to advance AI development, why are some of the biggest sites on the internet, some of which have benefited in one way or another from AI, against it?

Well, here’s the thing. Since the 2022 resurgence of generative AI technologies, there have been numerous debates on the right of AI companies to use, almost without limits, data sourced from the internet, a significant portion of which is legally protected by copyright. No clear laws govern how these companies collect and use data for their own gain.

Artificial intelligence woman

So, basically, crawlers like GPTBot crawl the web, grab people’s creative work in the form of text, images, or other forms of media, and use it for commercial purposes without obtaining any permission, licensing, or providing compensation to the original creators.

It’s a wild west out there, and AI companies are grabbing whatever they can get their hands on. Large websites like Quora, CNN, the New York Times, Business Insider, and Amazon are not very pleased that their copyrighted content is being harvested by these crawlers, so OpenAI can get financial benefit from it at their expense.

That’s why these sites are deploying “robots.txt,” a decades-old method to block web crawlers. According to OpenAI, GPTBot will obey instructions to crawl or avoid crawling websites based on the rules embedded in robots.txt, a small text file that tells web crawlers how to behave on a site. If you have a site of your own and would love to stop GPTBot from grabbing your data, here’s how you can block OpenAI’s crawlers from scraping your website.

Can Websites Really Stop GPTBot?

While crawlers like GPTBot are indispensable for gathering the massive amounts of data required to train advanced AI systems, there are valid concerns around copyright and fair usage that cannot be ignored.

Sure, there are simple tools like robots.txt that can be used to guard against this, but whether GPTBot obeys the instructions on this file is entirely at OpenAI’s discretion. There are no guarantees that they will do so, and there is no immediate foolproof way to tell whether they’ve done so. In the fight to keep GPTBot away from copyrighted data, OpenAI holds the aces, at least for now.


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