As OpenAI blocks China, developers rush to maintain GPT access via VPNs


Chinese developers continue to find ways to access OpenAI’s artificial intelligence (AI) models from the mainland after the Microsoft-backed startup restricted access to the technology behind its popular ChatGPT employ.

Seven developers across China told the Post on Wednesday that they are using virtual private networks (VPNs) and third-party services that still have GPT access to continue operating the AI ​​models that are considered a global benchmark for the industry.

OpenAI was once aggressive in blocking VPN access by banning internet protocol (IP) addresses known to be associated with such services.

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OpenAI was still accessible on Wednesday via a Chinese VPN service advertising ChatGPT access. It was the first full day in China that OpenAI blocked access to the country’s application programming interface (API), according to tests by the Post.

The developers, who asked to remain anonymous due to the unclear legality of using foreign AI technologies and VPNs on the mainland, are based in cities across the country, including Guangzhou in the southern province of Guangdong, Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan, and Dalian, a port city in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (right) speaks as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman looks on during the OpenAI DevDay event in San Francisco on November 6, 2023. Photo: AFP alt=Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (right) speaks as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman looks on during the OpenAI DevDay event in San Francisco on November 6, 2023. Photo: AFP>

OpenAI announced late last month that it would launch block connections to its API from regions it doesn’t support starting July 9 in the US. Unsupported regions include those sanctioned by the US — such as Iran, North Korea, and Russia — along with China, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Other major AI services, such as Google’s Gemini and Anthropic’s Claude, have also blocked access from China and Hong Kong due to geopolitical uncertainties exacerbated by a US-China technology warHowever, Microsoft has retained access to the region.

Third-party services that still have GPT access, such as Microsoft Azure, are another way developers in China can use GPT models.

While most Chinese services offering this access have been shut down due to regulatory pressure, Microsoft maintains business access in mainland China and has repeatedly dedicated to maintaining access to its Copilot AI service in Hong Kong, where it hopes Putting AI in every school.

It is still unclear whether OpenAI can effectively restrict unwanted access to its publicly available services.

One developer explained that it is difficult for the company to determine where the connection is coming from if you use an account associated with a foreign mobile phone number while connected to OpenAI’s API via a VPN.

But there are anecdotal signs that it is becoming increasingly difficult to access OpenAI in China, where the use of unapproved VPNs is illegal and publicly available Large Language Models (LLMs) must be licensed. A developer said that his GPT service provider has disabled some OpenAI services.

Still, most developers say the move is unlikely to be a major blow to their work, as there are now plenty of LLM alternatives from both local and international AI companies.

Many developers said they are coming up with backup plans, such as migrating to Anthropic, whose latest Claude Sonnet 3.5 has received much praise for its capabilities over the latest GPT-4 models. However, Anthropic also restricts API access in China, according to testing by the Post.

Some developers are also considering switching to domestic AI platforms, who have been wrestling to find ways to match the capabilities of foreign models.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP)the most authoritative voice covering China and Asia for over a century. For more SCMP stories, explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook And Twitter pages. Copyright © 2024 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2024. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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