Generative Data Intelligence

Why France just fined Google €250M over online news


The French Competition Authority (FCA) on Wednesday fined Google €250 million ($272 million, £214 million) for breaking its promise to figure out a payment plan with French news publishers for using their articles.

That’s a mere 0.09 percent of Google’s €281 billion ($306 billion) revenue and 0.36 percent of its $74 billion profit in 2023 – and not much more than CEO Sundar Pichai’s reported €208 million ($226 million) compensation in 2022.

At issue is Article 15 of the EU’s Copyright Directive, the so-called “link tax” that entitles publishers to be compensated when large online aggregators and platforms like Facebook and Google republish article snippets. In 2019, Google said it would not use snippets from French publishers without explicit permission due to the copyright law. But the FCA deemed that refusal to negotiate an abuse of market power.

In April 2020 the FCA ordered Google to come to a financial arrangement with French news publishers for the reuse of their work in Google News, Google Search, and other services. It did so having concluded that Google had likely abused its dominant position in the market, an outcome informed by years of complaints from media organizations in Europe dating back to at least 2005.

In July 2021, the FCA decided to fine the Chrome goliath €500 million ($544 million) for non-compliance with that order. And the following year, Google agreed to a set of commitments to make things right.

Evidently, that hasn’t happened yet. According to the FCA, Google has failed to meet four of those seven commitments, specifically: to negotiate in good faith in a way that’s transparent, objective, and non-discriminatory, within three months (1,4); to provide news publishers with the data necessary to make a transparent assessment of proposed payments (2); and to ensure that negotiations do not affect other economic relations between Google and news publishers (6).

What’s more, the FCA says that Google used the content of news agencies and publishers without consent to train its Bard AI model, which launched in July 2023 and is now called Gemini. And subsequently, the competition watchdog claims, Google refused to provide publishers with a way to avoid having their content used by its AI model in a way that doesn’t affect other aspects of their relationship with Google.

“In view of these breaches, the [FCA] has imposed a fine of €250 million on Alphabet Inc., Google LLC, Google Ireland Ltd and Google France,” the agency said. “As Google undertook not to contest the facts, it was able to benefit from the settlement procedure. Google has also proposed a series of corrective measures to address certain breaches identified by the [FCA].”

Google for its part says it just wants the dispute to end and to have a clearer legal landscape.

“We’ve settled because it’s time to move on and, as our many agreements with publishers show, we want to focus on the larger goal of sustainable approaches to connecting people with quality content and on working constructively with French publishers,” said Sulina Connal, managing director of news and publishing partnerships, in an announcement.

It’s time to move on … we want to focus on the larger goal of sustainable approaches to connecting people with quality content

“But it’s important to note that the fine is not proportionate to issues raised by the FCA. It also doesn’t sufficiently take into account the efforts we have made to answer and resolve the concerns raised – in an environment where it’s very hard to set a course because we can’t predict which way the wind will blow next.”

According to Connal, regulators have not been clear about what the law demands and repeated enforcement interventions have complicated negotiations with publishers. “We – and others – need more clarity on whom we are paying for what,” she said.

Connal also said that the FCA’s acceptance of Google’s settlement raises no objection to the way web content gets used in generative AI services, something addressed in Article 4 of the EUCD and the pending EU AI Act.

“Soon after the launch in France of our experiment, Bard (now called Gemini) – and in the absence of international standards or any solution developed by publishers – Google voluntarily introduced a new technical solution called Google-Extended to make it easier for rights holders to opt out of Gemini without impact on their presence in Search,” said Connal. “The FCA asked us to explain to publishers how our generative AI products and opt-out work.”

Connal said Google continues to be willing to engage with the FCA and French publishers but would appreciate clearer rules. ®


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