Did OpenAI Just Kill Plugins?

In May, OpenAI had disabled the 'Browse with Bing' feature after beta release, which paved the way for plugins
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OpenAI has been on a roll with a slew of announcements lately. Besides making public a host of features which have enabled ChatGPT to see, hear and speak, OpenAI has now brought back its Browse with Bing capability, removing the barrier of information, which was previously limited to November 2021. 

While this was a welcome move for many, some believe that this could be the end of plugins, making its marketplace redundant and less attractive. CEO Sam Altman took to X announcing ChatGPT going online, “We are back”, to which a user responded, “You are not just back but you are literally destroying everyone.” 

Plugins become obsolete

The latest ‘Browse with Bing’ feature could indeed prove to be the plugin killer. For instance, why would anyone use a third-party plugin to browse the web with ChatGPT when you’ve got the Microsoft hallmark? It does sound safer and more reliable than a third-party plugin. If a user tried the browsing option to extract a list of shoes under $100 on ChatGPT, they wouldn’t want to opt for a third-party plugin.

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A number of CTOs and venture capitalists reiterated that ‘a whole bunch of plugins and wrappers became instantly obsolete.’

Back in May, OpenAI’s decision to embrace plugins for ChatGPT was met with enthusiasm. The ChatGPT plugin store filled up fast with over 100 pages featuring close to 900 plugins. Regardless, OpenAI’s Plugin Store is a hot mess. It lacks basic organisation and has no categorisation or ranking. In addition, it has been struggling with a host of security issues, compromising user data. 

Moreover, amid this flurry of innovation, security researchers raised red flags. Johann Rehberger, a security researcher and red team director at Electronic Arts, has been diligently documenting the vulnerabilities plaguing ChatGPT’s plugins during his spare time. His findings are disconcerting.

Rehberger has revealed that these plugins harbour the potential to compromise user data security, enabling malicious actors to pilfer chat histories, harvest personal information, and execute code on users’ devices.

The crux of the issue lies in plugins employing OAuth, a web standard designed for data-sharing across online accounts. Rehberger contends that these plugins fundamentally erode the trustworthiness of ChatGPT.

Through the use of a plugin, a malicious website or document could orchestrate prompt injection attacks or introduce malicious payloads, effectively granting unauthorised access to sensitive information and systems.

OpenAI is not turning a blind eye to these concerns. While ChatGPT plugins have been in beta since their launch in March, the company has introduced warning mechanisms cautioning users to exercise prudence in trusting plugins.

Nevertheless, the overarching questions regarding data security persist, which OpenAI seems to be getting rid of, or at least reducing the dependence on with this move.

Going online, good/bad for business?

In May, OpenAI had introduced and then disabled the ‘Browse with Bing’ feature after its beta release due to concerns about data leakage. The feature was introduced in beta for ChatGPT Plus subscribers, offering real-time data access as part of the $20 per month subscription. However, it inadvertently started displaying content, including full text from URLs, which raised privacy concerns for content owners. 

In a blog post, OpenAI expressed its commitment to finding ways for creators, publishers, and content producers to benefit from their technology, but the identified bug in the browser feature contradicted this goal. 

This privacy issue led to OpenAI facing challenges with various companies and countries in the European Union and others like Japan, warning against the use of ChatGPT due to data privacy concerns. Additionally, they had attracted flak from the likes of The New York Times for copyright infringement, and there were rumours that the publication was likely to sue OpenAI. 

A lot of people raised questions about the peculiar terminology ‘authoritative information’. As OpenAI has reintroduced the feature, ‘authoritative information’ could be an attempt at patching these issues. However, browsing seems to be working for some, while others have complained that it doesn’t work for them — which indicates that the company is administering a slower rollout.

More lawsuits 

Conclusively, the point to ponder is what this would mean for OpenAI. It could bring back some customers it had conceded to other models with browsing capabilities, but it could fall back into the same pit of copyright lawsuits, not just from authors and artists but from large corporations which have blocked access to their website data. 

A host of platforms, from Reddit to X have banned scraping their website for content, to build their own models (in Musk’s case), which could mean trouble for the plugin. However, OpenAI doesn’t need to scrape social media sites because it has inked partnerships with the likes of the Associated Press, a wire agency which gets its news and updates from multiple sources including social media platforms like X.

Shyam Nandan Upadhyay
Shyam is a tech journalist with expertise in policy and politics, and exhibits a fervent interest in scrutinising the convergence of AI and analytics in society. In his leisure time, he indulges in anime binges and mountain hikes.

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