What happens when Google says “we aren’t going to pay your fines”?

By Ben Longstaff

France recently tested out the teeth in GDPR against Google.

“On 21 January 2019, the CNIL’s restricted committee imposed a financial penalty of 50 Million euros against the company GOOGLE LLC, in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), for lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding the ads personalization.” — source

A win for privacy!

The end of the world’s wild west? Not so much.

Google is a business, it has a responsibility to make money for shareholders. This is its sole responsibility. Google made $110B of revenue in 2017. The 50 Million euro fine is 0.05% of its global revenue. It’s smart business for Google to just pay the fine rather than go to war with the EU over GDPR.

But … what would have happened if France tried to enforce the maximum penalty of 4% in global revenue? If France tried to fine Google $4.4B, would Google pay?

The total Ad spend on all Search Advertising in France is only 2.2B euros.

That’s half the potential fine …

France has been getting uppity of late. It lost a court battle in 2017 against Google for 1.12B euros in back taxes. France convinced Apple to back pay 500 Million euros in back taxes. Now France is trying to introduce a “GAFA tax” for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

That would send a bad message to other EU countries.

France is not exactly in a strong negotiating position at the moment. The Yellow Vest movement protesting the price of fuel has been going for weeks. Google could flex its influence.

After all, the EU fines are getting expensive for Google. The EU fined Google 2.42B euros in an antitrust fine in 2017. Then there was the 4.34 billion euro antitrust fine from the EU in 2018. Who knows what the 2019 fine is going to look like.

At some point, compliance becomes bad business.

Maybe the EU needs a lesson in power. Maybe it would be better for shareholders if GAFA made an example of France by denying its citizens service. Forming a Technology Union union to stand up to the EU.

Imagine the impact.

When French citizens visit the Google homepage they would find a message saying:

“Your government has breached our terms of service. Until you replace them we are unable to provide your country with service.”
Want access to login to your Gmail?
Need files from your Google Drive?
Lost and in need of directions from Google Maps?
I hear you can use the sun for that.
Visiting a site hosted in Google Cloud?
Not anymore.

At least not until your government complies.

Now expand that to all of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple’s (GAFA) services. Suddenly every iPhone and Android phone no longer works in France. How long could France operate before everything ground to a halt?

My guess?

Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

Not long.