France Losing Patience with Google


The giant American search engine is causing overheating in France right now, being seen as a transgressor of privacy laws and an a skilled avoider of taxation

Last week, the French data protection agency CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés) issued a stern warning to Google, accusing the company of breaching France’s privacy laws after a three months grace period ended without compliance.

In recent times, the issue of data protection has become red hot in the wake of revelations by former security contractor Edward Snowden that the American government had a world-wide secret programme, monitoring internet usage.

In a statement, the CNIL said that Google had failed to comply with the relatively new privacy laws (in place since early 2012) within a three-month deadline and warned that it was beginning the process of applying a formal sanction – a sanction that could cost the world’s favourite search engine up to €150,000.

The CNIL had asked Google to respond to a list of clear directives. These included directing Google to inform their web users in France on how it processes their personal data, as well as defining precisely how long that information can be stored.

It also asked Google to obtain users’ permission before storing cookies on their computers or devices – something that ultimately allows tailoring adverts to suit what customers have been searching for on their search engines.

According to the CNIL, Google waited until the last day of their three-month period before responding:

“Google contests the reasoning of ths CNIL and has not complied with the requests laid down in the enforcement notice,” said the CNIL statement. “In this context, the Chair of the CNIL will now designate a rapporteur for the purpose of initiating a formal procedure for imposing sanctions.”

For its part, Google curiously made no mention of its calling into question the reasoning of the CNIL and continued to insist that it is respectful of European law.

The French move comes after the introduction last year by Google of a new policy that allows it to track user activity across its platforms that include the search engine, Gmail, Google+, YouTube and other services it owns.

The security policy changes brought in by Google without too many people taking notice, have made it easier for Google to collect and process data that, in turn, can be used by advertisers to target individual users with tailored offers.

Google is arguing that its changes have just simplified and standardised their approach across its various platforms and services, but there is no doubting the fact that the search engine now has a level of user monitor ability that is unprecedented.

Meanwhile, a report in Le Figaro revealed today that Google only paid €6.5 million in French taxes last year. This was based on a declared turnover figure of €193 million. However, the daily newspaper claims that the sponsored links market in France was worth over a billion euros in 2012.

The real turnover of Google France, they say, is approximately €1.2 billion. So why the massive discrepancy? Similar to a number of other global giants, the company plays a complex three-card trick involving their bases in three different countries in Europe, magically transferring economic activity from one jurisdiction to the other and back again. In Google’s case, it concentrates its sales from its ex-USA sponsored links in its Irish office (where it also deftly avoids paying much tax, as we know), which are then then channelled through its Dutch operation, before going back through the Irish branch again before coming out as a tiny fraction of the real quantity of its trade in France. Voilà!

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