Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Google: France’s War With US Tech Firms

Ten years ago the people of France had to deal with a major challenge – English tech words were beginning to become more popular than baguettes. As a result, the country’s Culture Ministry banned the term e-mail and replaced it with the term Courriel. A decade later, the country decreed the word hashtag shouldn’t be used but instead they suggested ‘mot-dièse’ which we believe may be French for “too much time on our hands due to overly generous government handouts.”

The country’s battle against tech terms coming from the US is dwarfed only by the country’s attack on US tech corporations. Most recently, Apple was fined 10,000 euros for having its workers work past 9:00 p.m. in retail stores. The French ban working between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless it is required. Now the country is after Skype – France isn’t happy the free service hasn’t registered as a telecoms operator.

Last week I pointed out the irony in the delayed EU fine of Microsoft after it didn’t give users an option to install competitive browsers. The point is by the time the company got fined, it had lost a good deal of marketshare because the internet itself allowed the competition to bypass the installed browser default which Microsoft provided in its OS.

Facebook too has had to deal with EU regulators on privacy issues – in 2011 the EU started to look at how the service tagged photos using facial recognition and over a year later the social networking giant removed all the facial recognition data from the EU.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of French and EU conflicts with tech companies – many know Google has had a number of back-and-forth legal challenges relating to advertising and newspapers.

It’s worth pointing out in many of these cases I am sure the companies in question were on the wrong side of the law and did need to be slapped on the wrist in court, through fines, etc to bring them in line.

It is however worth considering the German and French governments came together in 2008 to build a competitor to Google called Quaero. The plan was scrapped after the Germans pulled out but the project was slated to be massive – up to $2.6B was to be spent on it over five years.

This isn’t to say the US government hasn’t at times made life difficult for tech companies. The FTC for example just decided that social media like Facebook and Twitter need to have the same consumer protection disclaimers as other forms of advertising. While this makes sense from a fairness perspective, how you put a disclaimer and a message in 140 characters has yet to be determined.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see a pattern emerging here. First the French go after the terms, then the business models and finally the companies themselves.

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