French authorities have raided Apple’s offices in the latest escalation of hostilities between France and American technology giant, Financial Times reports. France has been slowly constructing a multi-pronged attack on companies like Apple, Google and Amazon over the past year. The raid of Apple’s offices is probably linked to claims that Apple is misusing its pricing power on iPhone and iPad devices. Another front involves French claims that Apple and Google are unfairly leveraging the power of their app markets, locking consumers permanently to their closed ecosystems and dictating which apps are approved and which are not. Yet another line of attack involves Amazon — France is considering banning deep merchandise discounting and free delivery offers, which are the very essence of Amazon.
Taken in isolation, these instances may seem like relatively harmless, odd French contretemps. But viewed together, something more sinister emerges: A national strategy aimed at reining in the most powerful American technology companies.
The fact that these recent attacks on Apple, Google and Amazon are taking place just ahead of a crucial new round of trade negotiations between America and the European Union may not be a coincidence. France seems to be methodically building a broad case against the U.S. tech hegemony to convince Germany and the U.K. to support it fully in a trade clash against America. Of course, both the Brits and Germans are highly dependent on the U.S. export market and have been notably skeptical about the French agitation against American hypercapitalism.
Until last weekend.
On Sunday, Der Spiegel splashed a series of garish articles about NSA spying on German citizens across its home page. The public opinion in Germany seems to have swung towards strident opposition of American intelligence gathering methods. It is possible that the crafty French may be able to leverage the NSA scandal into broader opposition of the American tech empire — including the rapidly growing digital content delivery power of Apple, Google and Amazon.
Could France possibly convince other European powers to challenge Apple’s pricing practices, Google’s lock on search business and Amazon’s delivery and discounting strategy? Such direct opposition to core principles of free trade would have seemed far-fetched just months ago. But now that U.S. technology giants are deeply entangled in the NSA spying scandals, the threat of real U.S.-EU trade trouble seems to be a small, but growing possibility.