VPN downloads in Italy skyrocket by 400% after ChatGPT block

William S. | April 05, 2023

OpenAI, the developer of the popular generative AI chatbot, ChatGPT, has begun geoblocking access to its service in Italy. This decision comes after the local data protection authority ordered OpenAI to halt processing Italians' data for the ChatGPT service.

As a result, there has been a significant surge in VPN downloads in Italy, with a staggering 400% increase in usage. A similar trend of interest in VPNs also shows up in Google Trends, where people searched for the keyword ‘VPN’ 600% more than before.

The chart below shows the Top 10 VPN installs originating from Italy since the ban of ChatGPT. The volume of installs is compared to the average number of installs before the local data authority demanded to stop processing Italians’ data for ChatGPT.

During March, Italians installed one of the top 10 VPN apps about 4213 times on average daily. However, on the day OpenAI announced its geoblock in Italy, VPN installs jumped by 121%, which is equal to 9302 downloads.

On April 1st, VPN downloads originating in Italy skyrocketed by 404%. The following day, the total number of VPN installs was 359% larger than the March average. Finally, on April 3rd, the downloads started to slow down but were still significantly higher at 270% above the pre-ban levels of ChatGPT services.

OpenAI is currently using a basic geoblock to limit ChatGPT access in Italy. While users can use a VPN to bypass the block by switching to a non-Italian IP address, ChatGPT accounts initially registered in Italy may no longer be available. Consequently, users may need to create a new account using a non-Italian IP address to access ChatGPT.

To compensate for the ban, OpenAI has announced that it will refund all users who subscribed to the ChatGPT Plus service in Italy last month. The company has also temporarily halted subscription renewals in the country to prevent users from being charged while the service is suspended.

Looking for a VPN

Naturally, as Italians started looking for ways to bypass the restriction of ChatGPT services, VPNs became a more popular search. Such a surge in VPN usage is a clear example of how technology users respond to restrictions placed on their access to online services and the measures they take to maintain access to them.

Google Trends data indicates that the keyword "VPN" gained a lot of interest in Italy after the ChatGPT ban. Google Trends measures search interest on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 representing peak popularity for a term.

Days before the geoblock of ChatGPT, Italians’ interest in VPNs was relatively low. At the end of March, interest hovered around 15 point mark. However, on April 1st, interest grew significantly from 14 to 100, which indicates a 600% increase. The interest in VPN remained high, without falling below 50, during the following days.

The surge in VPN usage is not surprising, as it is a common response to restrictions placed on access to online services. In recent years, we have seen similar trends in other countries where governments have imposed bans or restrictions on various internet websites.

The ChatGPT geoblock in Italy and the subsequent surge in VPN usage highlight that people will try to access the online services they need, despite internet restrictions. This is a powerful reminder of the importance of internet freedom and the role that tools like VPNs can play in ensuring access to information and communication.

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