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TikTok parent ByteDance says it’s using OpenAI technology to test its own AI models

<i>Leon Neal/Getty Images</i><br/>The welcome page for the OpenAI 'ChatGPT' app is displayed on a laptop screen on February 3.
Leon Neal/Getty Images
The welcome page for the OpenAI 'ChatGPT' app is displayed on a laptop screen on February 3.

By Laura He, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — Chinese tech giant ByteDance says it is using OpenAI’s technology “to a very limited extent” to help develop its own AI models.

The admission comes after the San Francisco-firm said it had suspended ByteDance’s account over questions about how its GPT data was being used.

A ByteDance spokesperson told CNN on Tuesday that the company’s engineering team uses OpenAI’s GPT, along with other third-party models, to a very limited extent during the evaluation and testing process.

“ByteDance is licensed by Microsoft to use the GPT APIs,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company uses GPT to power products and features in markets outside China. OpenAI’s services are not available in China.

API stands for “application programming interface,” and it’s a framework that allows programs to communicate and connect with each other.

Beijing-based Bytedance, which owns TikTok, says it uses only its own self-developed AI model to power Doubao, which is available only in China, the spokesperson said. Doubao is a ChatGPT-like tool that provides chat robots, writing assistance, English learning help and other services.

The comments come days after the Verge reported that ByteDance is “secretly” using OpenAI’s technology to train its own large language model (LLM), which is in direct violation of OpenAI’s terms of service.

OpenAI prohibits users from developing rival AI models using ChatGPT output.

In a statement sent to CNN on Tuesday, OpenAI said it had suspended Bytedance’s account.

“All API customers must adhere to our usage policies to ensure that our technology is used for good. While ByteDance’s use of our API was minimal, we have suspended their account while we further investigate,” it said.

“If we discover that their usage doesn’t follow these policies, we will ask them to make necessary changes or terminate their account,” it added.

The Verge, citing internal ByteDance documents, reported that the Chinese company has relied on OpenAI API “during nearly every phase of development” of its foundational LLM, which was codenamed Project Seed.

It reported that ByteDance ordered its staff to stop using GPT-generated text a few months ago, which was around the time that the company released the model through its Doubao platform in China.

Many of China’s tech giants — including Baidu (Bidu), Alibaba (BABA) and SenseTime — have already shown off their own ChatGPT-style tools. Some say the new offerings from Chinese firms will add fuel to an existing US-China rivalry in emerging technologies.

The ByteDance spokesperson told CNN that in April, the company announced internally that data produced by GPT should not be added to the training datasets of its self-developed models.

The company also provided compliance training to the engineering team regarding the terms of service when using GPT.

— CNN’s Juliana Liu and Catherine Thorbecke contributed reporting

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