The French don’t play. Ever since Minitel bit dust, the continental power has been hopping mad about American domination of Internet services. And over the past weeks, attacks on U.S. giants have escalated from Paris to Lille.
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Netflix is right now in the middle of an ambitious European expansion drive that started in Scandinavia and is fanning out south. Sure enough, France’s Association for the Protection of Consumers and Users has now sued Netflix for “malicious and illegal clauses.” These include changing the terms of contract without informing consumers, not offering information of guaranteed minimum quality and writing contract clauses in English.
No doubt this is only the opening salvo against Netflix in France, which guards its cultural heritage jealously. The U.S. streaming service tried to preempt Gallic criticism by financing a political drama series called Marseilles, but this appears to have been ineffective.
Uber’s French launch has been, if anything, more controversial than the Netflix debut. Infuriated taxi drivers in Lille have attacked a student for trying to enter an Uber car, first attempting to block her from opening the car door, then allegedly throwing a bottle at her head. The UberPOP service is about 20% cheaper than French taxis.
The French legal attacks on Google are too numerous to list here but the latest one actually has an entirely novel twist. France is now threatening Google with a hefty, €1,000 penalty for every defamatory link the company fails to remove from its global network of Google subsidiaries.
Google agreed earlier this year in Europe to remove links to articles that may be considered “outdated and inflammatory” — in other words, Europeans can demand removal of old search results that they consider embarrassing. But the new penalty scheme essentially holds the French subsidiary of Google responsible for the actions of its sister and parent entities. This in turn means that the French are attempting to make their legislative decisions global.
What to make of all these recent moves against some of America’s most successful corporations? They seem to indicate that France has no intention of trying to emulate the American model and foster growth of its own IT industry — instead, the country seems to be sliding towards perpetual guerrilla war against foreign tech powers. It is hard to overemphasize just how futile this bitter battle against the future looks to foreign observers.