Apple Blocks Update of ChatGPT-Powered App

3rd March 2023
Original source:

Apple Inc. green up pointing triangle has delayed the approval of an email-app update with AI-powered language tools over concerns that it could generate inappropriate content for children, according to communications Apple sent to the app maker. The software developer disagrees that Apple blocks update.

The dispute shows the broad concerns about whether language-generating artificial-intelligence tools, such as ChatGPT, are ready for widespread use.

Apple’s  BlueMail Concern

Apple took steps last week to block an update of email app BlueMail because of concerns that a new AI feature in the app could show inappropriate content, according to Ben Volach, co-founder of BlueMail developer Blix Inc., and documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

BlueMail’s new AI feature uses OpenAI’s latest ChatGPT chatbot to help automate the writing of emails using the contents of prior emails and calendar events. ChatGPT allows users to converse with an AI in seemingly humanlike ways and is capable of advanced long-form writing on a variety of topics.

“Your app includes AI-generated content but does not appear to include content filtering at this time,” Apple’s app-review team said last week in a message to the developer reviewed by the Journal.

May not be for all Audience

The app-review team said that because the app could produce content not appropriate for all audiences, BlueMail should move up its age restriction to 17 and older, or include content filtering, the documents show. Mr. Volach says it has content-filtering capabilities. The app’s restriction is currently set for users 4 years old and older. Apple’s age restriction for 17 and older is for categories of apps that may include everything from offensive language to sexual content and references to drugs. Mr. Volach says that this request is unfair and that other apps with similar AI functions without age restrictions are already allowed for Apple users.

“Apple is making it really hard for us to bring innovation to our users,” said Mr. Volach.

An Apple spokesman said that developers can challenge a rejection through its App Review Board appeal process and that it is investigating Blix’s complaint.

So-called generative AI has emerged as one of the most closely watched developing technologies in decades, primarily kicked off by ChatGPT, a chatbot created by OpenAI.

The Prevailing Controversy

The technology has quickly generated controversy. Following the release of Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine powered by ChatGPT, early testers grew concerned with responses generated by the chatbot, including incorrect information as well as seemingly unhinged and angry responses. Microsoft, which has invested billions in OpenAI, defended the Bing upgrade as a work in progress.

Apple blocks update of an email app to help moderate content from a language-model-based AI is an indication the tech giant is closely watching the new technology and the risks it poses. The company has long said it must carefully curate and review what software can be accessed on the iPhone and iPad through its App Store to keep its products private and secure.

Microsoft recently released an updated version of its Bing smartphone app with the ChatGPT functionality to Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Play Store. Bing is listed in the iPhone App Store with the 17-and-older age restriction that Apple is asking of BlueMail, while Bing on the Google Play store has no age restrictions. Bing in the App Store already had a 17-and-up age restriction because of the app’s ability to find adult content, a Microsoft spokesman said.

For BlueMail, Apple’s rejection came a week after the company submitted the app upgrade for review. Mr. Volach said Apple used a test version of the upgraded app every day before he got a response. BlueMail was able to update its Android BlueMail app on the Google Play app store without any requests for age restriction or further content filtering, Mr. Volach said.

‘Unfair’, Claims BlueMail

Mr. Volach says Apple is unfairly targeting BlueMail. The app has content filtering, and placing a higher age restriction on the app could limit distribution to potential new users, he said. Mr. Volach also said many other apps that advertise a ChatGPT-like feature listed on Apple’s App Store don’t have age restrictions.

“We want fairness,” said Mr. Volach. “If we’re required to be 17-plus, then others should also have to.”

In the past, Apple has at times discovered an issue with an app that leads the company to apply a new rule more broadly. Initial inconsistency in applying App Store policies—especially new policies—isn’t uncommon, said Phillip Shoemaker, former senior director of the App Store review team at Apple, who left in 2016.

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