US regulators investigate whether OpenAI investors were misled, say reports

US regulators are investigating internal communications from the OpenAI chief executive, Sam Altman, as part of an inquiry into whether investors into the technology company were misled, reports claim.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is looking into emails and internal records of directors and officials at the ChatGPT creator after it issued a subpoena in December, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The decision to investigate comes after Altman was ousted as the boss of the San Francisco-based company in November after the board accused him of being not “consistently candid in his communications”, adding that it “no longer had confidence in his ability to lead”.

However, less than a week later he was reinstated to the top job, and a new board was brought in, after the 750-strong workforce at the Microsoft-backed company threatened to resign if he wasn’t brought back.

According to the WSJ report on Wednesday, people familiar with the SEC inquiry said the investigation was a predictable response to the comments made by the board when Altman was originally sacked. The report also said the SEC had not pointed to any specific statement or communication by Altman that it believed might bemisleading.

The SEC often concludes investigations without making accusations of wrongdoing.

News of the SEC investigation comes as OpenAI’s ChatGPT product, which was launched in November 2022, has received worldwide popularity, resulting in the company being recently valued at $80bn (£63bn).

However, the artificial intelligence company is facing several investigations by regulators and government bodies into its operations.

The US Federal Trade Commission announced in January that it had launched an investigation into Open AI and other tech firms, including Amazon and the Google owner, Alphabet, to look into AI investments and consider how they affect competition in the sector.

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Separately, the Competition and Markets Authority in the UK said in December it would look into the partnership between OpenAI and Microsoft, its biggest investor.

The Guardian has contacted OpenAI and Microsoft for comment.

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