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What happens when Google says “we aren’t going to pay your fines”? (medium.com)
35 points by longstaff2009 8 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

If people's GMail and Android phones stop working, they may get angry at the French government, but outside France a lot of people would also want to move away from Google services like GMail, Android, etc, because Google would show your access to them can't be trusted. Google would lose a lot more users than just France.

Yes, it would cause chaos in France, but it would also really hurt Google.

If you've paid attention to Facebook's most recent quarterly, you'll realize that people don't really care about the things they claim to care about. Facebook's recent privacy breaches haven't really affected their bottom line. Likewise, a couple days of Google flexing it's power over France may not really cause a widespread exodus.

if Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft formed a union of sorts it would be hard to move away from

In places like EU, this may be illegal cartel behaviour.

In Australia, the Big Four banks applied to the consumer watchdog for permission to team together and negotiate as a block - form a cartel - to Apple over Apple Pay and NFC access. The banks were denied, and just last month the biggest bank added Apple Pay support (after a number of the 'smaller' ones added it).

And what would they do? Force them to do business in their country? By presumably what means?

- Detaining any executives of the company found within borders or in regions where extradition is possible.

- Seizing all company assets, offices, source code, etc.

- Breaking the company up and promoting in-borders employees into management positions, etc.

Its not like Corporations can pay someone else, say US or China, to protect their assets and people. US totally wont fk EUs shit up for few hundreds of billions. No sir, countries can seize and kidnap without consequences, because muh sovereignty.

> No sir, countries can seize and kidnap without consequences, because muh sovereignty.

The Jamal Khashoggi tragedy is a very recent example that this has been the sentiment for some time.

The EU could conceivably force them to choose to do business in all or none of the countries in the EU.

That would be a big gamble for each member country to make.

If Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft all simultaneously stopped doing business in the EU, their competitors would have probably the biggest business opportunity in all of history.

All of those things and worse. Remember these nations have vast armies, trillions of dollars of power, bombs, tanks and nuclear weapons, and can seize assets and restrict internet access easily.

France has vast armies and trillions of dollars? lol

On the one hand I think foreign countries griefing American businesses with arbitrary fines is lame. Perhaps they should start their own tech industries instead of leeching off ours. On the other hand, the notion of corporations having enough leverage to dominate sovereign countries - that's scary as hell. There has to be some kind of happy medium here.

And... now you understand how China feels about American tariffs?

First few days. Then some solutions will appear, and for some weeks - and in some cases even months an industry of decoupling will grow so that somebody'll turn green of envy. Then slowly people will start forgetting that at a time there were some G, A, F, A, M...

maybe for some cases, but then there are the government and industry bodies that have exabytes of data stored. if Amazon wont provide access to snowmobile to you it becomes problematic

The thing about governments is that they can manifest their power in the form of people with guns showing up in places and forcing people to comply with them.

If Amazon refuses to give back someone's data; if they are a government entity they show up to the Datacenter and put a gun to someones head. If they are a private entity, the sue Amazon, win, and then get a court order which they can have the police enforce.

Maybe, but if the French government where to send the army into an American companies datacenter, would America stand by? Particularly if tech lobbyists had been contributing heavily to political campaign donations?

France and the US has a military alliance. I think choosing side between Amazon and the french army would be easy decision in fawor of the side with the guns.

If the value of Amazon in France is their customer list, then the government always will have more "customers" enlisted.

The power of FANG is always one government decision away from being relativly zero to today. The opposit is hardly true except in really small or unstable states.

Well, if it gets really inconvenient, I'd assume the industry will be invited to help with them, but I don't see how France or Europe position is weaker. You generally don't fight with your customers, and there are good reasons for that.

For a token fine I would agree. If the scale of the fines where to increase from a level that can be written off as the cost of doing business to something more damaging, I think that could change things. Particularly as we are seeing a rise in nationalist political movements around the world.

Every time I hear comments of this sort, I immediately think of the French Revolution.

Dynasty of emperors so detached from reality that the nation is willing to go to a civil war just to get rid of them?

God bless FANG realise that their power over people is only there because they are providing free services that are for still useful.

The moment those companies decide to play politics we, as a society, have already invented numerous methods of getting rid of the abusers of power.

And let’s be honest: neither of those companies are making such a huge difference that we would ceise existing as a society if they perished. We would take a hit, but we would still function.

Google has flexed its power and punished big companies for not playing nice in the past


This particular instance seems to be for gaming search results - which google punishes across the board.

it was, and it sent a strong message to other big companies that Google doesn't care who you are. This is Google's playground and if you want to stay in the search index then you play by Google's rules.

People forget this has already happened, more or less. In 2011 Google blackholed Belgium's newspapers when they got uppity. Pretty sure it happened a few times before that as well.


Also, many years ago, Google ghosted CNET because they didn't like their reporting. They didn't blacklist them from results, but it was an option.


Another example is that Google News ended service in Spain after a link tax was passed[0].

[0] https://www.huffingtonpost.com/enrique-dans/google-news-leav...

I had missed these, thanks for sharing

> Google is a business, it has a responsibility to make money for shareholders. This is its sole responsibility.

Uh, where'd you get that from? The company has an obligation to act in the the interest of shareholders, but "interest" doesn't necessarily mean "money." Moreover, that's not its _only_ obligation. This guy seems to agree:


You are right, it should say "act in the interest of" rather than "make money".

That's one silly power fantasy.

But what if they really tried to do it? Well, the most likely outcome would be the US government declaring Google a risk to national security, and taking direct control. After all if this could happen to France, it could happen to the US, and governments of sovereign states really really hate non-state competitors that could potentially meddle with the operation of the state.

After that, whatever remains of Google would probably be auctioned off to cover the costs of the backlash (and probable legal action) from Google's corporate clients.

I would call it a thought experiment rather than a power fantasy, but sure.

Would it be a thread to US national security in the same way it could be to France? It might depend how the President at the time is and where their campaign funding came from.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Proves Just How Easily Corporate PAC Money Can Influence Politics


You're saying that Google would be nationalized if they backed out of France? Notwithstanding that it would be illegal, how is choosing which countries to transact business in a breach of national security?

No. What the article details is not an ordinary exit from the French market, but an overnight attempt to pressure France into a change of government, which would involve disabling critical infrastructure and not fulfilling contractual and legal obligations in an attempt to make the French state unable to perform its functions.

And yes, having a company with the power and will to "digitally coup" world powers would be an immediate threat to national security, no question about that.

I don't know where you got the nationalization part from: U.S. courts and law enforcement are perfectly capable of taking temporary control of companies' resources in an effort to stop or prevent criminal activity, and none of that involves nationalizing anything.

2.2 billion would not be worth the money to alienate an entire nation and cause major lashback around the world who hears of the news. Those are all potential customers. They would do better to just pay up.

Now the question is, when will it be worth it for an all-powerful multinational corporation like Google to say fuck it and use their power to influence government policy on a global level? How much money or what would have to be at stake for them to turn their back on "Don't be evil"?

I would guess an exodus from the other side too. Even though I'm not French, if Google blocks France...it affects me.

I'd have to quit hosting my things on Google's cloud, app engine, Google drive, analytics, etc, if I expected people in France to be able to see it.

Yes ! At some point the cost of the reputation hit becomes less than the value of the fine.

Google removed 'Don't be evil' from its code of conduct last year. Hopefully not a sign of things to come

That would be the best thing that could ever happen.

Refusal of service?

I don't know anything that would make people run to another service faster.

for consumers maybe, but if you don't have access to your data its problematic. for business and government departments it could be crippling

I did a few migration projects when I worked at the Discovery Channel and they took months of planning to ensure continuation of services.

So is Google promising continuation of services before turning them off?

in the hypothetical scenario where France tries to enforce a huge fine and Google says no thanks, France pushes and then Google turns off service it would be crippling. Google has a lot of power in that sort of negotiation.

Which is why I think it was only a token 0.05% of global revenue for the fine rather than 4%

I'd expect law signatories to raise an eyebrow. The purpose of the law is different.

Given that Google execs were having another crack at entering China (and all the “compliance” that comes with that) last year, my guess is that Google has a pretty high pain threshold for compliance.

Then the Googlers go to jail or they bomb Google's headquarters. Google is not a nation state and wouldn't last long in a fight. More seriously, check out Huawei to see how a huge company pissing off a large country is doing.

> At some point, compliance becomes bad business.

It's not even funny. If compliance is bad business for you, well, your other choice is to not have business.

Wonder what shareholders would say, but not too much. Not one of them.

So I think that is why the fine is 0.05% of global revenue instead of the full 4% that can be enforced under GDPR. Both the government and Google can spin it as a win.

But say instead France asks for 4% of global revenue, and there are rumblings from Spain, Italy, Germany, UK, Sweden, Poland, Romania, Denmark and Greece that if France is successful they will do the same.

Suddenly the potential fines are 40% of global revenue, but Europe doesn't generate 40% of global revenue.

The goal of GDPR is to discourage bad business practices. It's expected that fines should be prohibitive for predatory business models. Until Google will comply - or go out of business - the fines will grow.

I mean, if somehow Google would manage to pay biggest possible fine without changing practices, I'd expect the law updated to bigger fines.

> I mean, if somehow Google would manage to pay biggest possible fine without changing practices, I'd expect the law updated to bigger fines.

And if they refused to pay, I imagine new laws would be passed to force compliance...such as criminal penalties against corporate executives and board members who choose to leave the fines unpaid.

Sundar Pichai's going to have Google pay up if the alternative is that he could end up in a French jail.

The countries start seizing your assets, which for Google would be their Datacenters in Europe.

The average person doesn't care about privacy (they have nothing interesting to share anyway), and better-targeted ads makes capitalism more efficient. Plus, the services that ads enable are very widely used and popular.

All that the EU has served to accomplish is to kill tech in Europe, place popups and opt-in buttons onto every website (accept cookies?), and to extort a few billions out of American tech companies.

Europe can't do tech because its taxes on labour are too high and the whole continent speaks 30 different languages. There, I said it.

You forget that 'murica can't do tech either these days, hihi. With all the outsourcing these days hardly any tech is there to make anyway.

I think the big tech companies are just fine with increasing regulation. They are in position to manage them, and benefit from the fact that the regulatory environment makes it that much more difficult for new companies to enter the market.

I cannot wait for this to happen. I dare, I double dare GAFA/FAANG or whatever acronym you want for them to make such move. I want them to flex their muscles to see who wins. My guess? DuckDuckGo, Linux and the likes. Maps? OpenMaps. Social network? I don't give a flying fly, definitely another in a year will rise. As for costs for not paying? Like all those companies don't have distributed offices to make local caches in each country? Rally them all up and auction baby. Get some money against those fines. I bet in 2 years all those companies will either disappear like Kodak when refused to change with times or they will comply with GDPR big time. I have news for Ben Longstaff, the article's author, GDPR is new times; your "My guess? Not long." is shortsighted.

Spoken like a true american...

"There are no nations. There are no peoples... There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars... It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And [France] has meddled with the primal forces of nature, and [France] will atone!"

This is the dystopia we have built. We have allowed corporations to have to much leverage and control.

I think the extent of that leverage is not well understood.

It's like AMI trying to blackmail Jeff Bezos, but having all of their sites hosted with AWS ....

What happens when it makes business sense for Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook to start charging nation states a license fee for offering their services into their country and all the government services rely on their cloud offerings?

Presumably that nation state puts someone in jail.

On what grounds? They would just be changing their business model

> On what grounds?

Because you thumb your nose at nation-states at your peril.

I like this phrase a lot :)

On the grounds of national security?

maybe, but when it comes to calling bluffs it would be much harder for the government to sustain continued denial of services than for Google et al to keep the case in court

You see, Google exists because there are governments willing to acknowledge that they have a right to exist.

It's the Zeroth law of the Economy. There's economic activity when you aren't getting shot at. If Google starts making sufficient waves that enough diplomatic pressure can be put on their host country to start tightening the thumbscrews, Google will be faced with a situation where suddenly a lot of it's worth and value start to disappear. If they start having to hire lawyers left and right due to scrutiny by the government or other governments, it becomes a less attractive asset to the market, and opens room for intrepid disruptors to replace their services.

Google has 'won' by being willing to play ball. Once hard ball starts being played, make no mistake. Google will get tipped.

...and if it doesn't, God save us all from the paths that leads to. I'm pretty sure they won't be pretty.

In practice, I'm sure we won't need anything remotely resembling disorder. Google is a monopoly on the search market, but not a holder of a unique resource. One can have pretty good services, be that from Bing/DuckDuckGo (watch how fast they'll upgrade their indexes) or Yandex and other international players. Other than search, Google is even less relevant.

Not being a holder of a unique resource is a good point.

Google do have the mind share though, can you imagine trying to explain to Aunty Robyn that you have to type duckduckgo.com into the search bar now? and that she cant google it anymore?

The government certainly can. For examine, work with the major national ISPs to change the DNS entrees for google.com to a page listing the alternatives. Or just a state-themed version of DDG or Bing

The ultimate tool of the government isn’t a courtroom, it’s a kalishnakov.

Presumably the government would pay the fee... and immediately begin building their own competing services...

Governments could have unlimited time and money and still never be able to compete with free market corporations.

A counter-example: https://www.gov.uk/ works pretty well. *

In fact, it's less user-hostile than most commercial sites.

Why is that?

* Disclaimer - I'm British

I'm not British, but that site does seem pretty nice. I don't know anything about the history of it, but I highly doubt it was developed in house.

I don't think it's the case that the government is simply unable to do something like this, I just think they don't provide the right incentives like competitive pay and bonuses.

In the private sector, say in finance, if you're good and you work for the firm for awhile you could get promoted to managing director and make anywhere from a million to ten million in bonuses for the year. If you're a productive manager in government, you don't really get paid much more than anyone else.

The main benefit that government provides its employees is good benefits (healthcare, pensions) and job stability. It's unlikely that you will ever get fired unless for some very gross misconduct.

I think this incentive system attracts the wrong kind of people into government: those who just want a stable paycheck instead of those driven to produce value.

If we just raised government salaries or if the government gave out significant performance bonuses, the government would work a lot better and be much more efficient.

It is in-house, GDS is part of the cabinet office, a govt department - https://gds.blog.gov.uk/about/

I do get your underlying point, but gov.uk has been near-universally lauded as “doing it right” - I think it’s important to take it as an example of “this is actually possible”, rather than brushing it off.

>but gov.uk has been near-universally lauded as “doing it right”

It would be rather disingenuous to heap any level of universal praise upon gov.uk projects, especially considering the high profile foobars reported on a regular basis. This is just one fresh example: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/02/08/ir35_tax_check_test...

Despite having a common UI/UX for the front-end, most of the development is conducted by different suppliers e.g. Capita, Cap Gemini, Fujitsu et al.


See, at least companies can't send you to jail, or start a war. Isn't it nice that we have an equivalent counterbalance to governments (with their known history of absolutely irresponsible and destructive behavior, which became even more so in the age of mass democracy, because the governments are now at least indirectly driven by idiots)?

Simply childish.

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