What's With France's Google Insecurities?

from the let-it-go... dept

It really seems like the French government has a ton of insecurities around Google. Last year, they decided to do their own book scanning project out of a fear that Google’s was somehow a threat to French culture. Then, there’s the French version of a search engine, which many believe is really just a way to get money out of the government. The latest is that they’ve created their own version of Google Earth. It sort of makes you wonder why they feel the need to mimic every Google move — all with government money. Why not just let private industry build what’s needed if there’s demand for it? The rationale for the French version of Google Earth makes almost no sense, saying that it’s important for French people to know this info. That’s true, but that doesn’t explain what’s wrong with the privately built offerings that are already out there.

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Mark says:

Viva la France

It’s France. Almost the entire raison d’etre of the French government is to provide — or sponsor businesses that provide — native French alternatives to virtually everything that exists in the English-speaking world. The irony is that this is usually justified by reference to the unique value of French language, history, and culture, but such activities actually show a high degree of insecurity about the value of those elements in the modern world.

Thirqual says:

French google earth

I’m french and must say the IGN (National Geographic Institute) project is years old in fact. They begin with data about roads, altitude and waterbodies, but the aim was also to provide paying services to other institutions, for example about the exact place and dimension of every building in a city (wihch is usally kept on huge maps called “cadastre”).

Another difference with googlearth is the source of the data. There it would be the aerial shoots taken, for a much higher resolution, if they do their jobs right, and with a refreshing of 20% of the surface every year.

french guy says:

Re: It's the french!

yope, won a war. something like…. oh yeah, helped US be independent. oh and actualy owed 3/4th of africa before letting it go. well… can also count peace ops in africa… and lost vietnam (eventhough at the time wasn’t called nam).

OK, kidding, the real reason is that if it is of use to everybody, then it should be available to everybody, not just through a privat copr that will serve its own interests and not those of society and its individuals. economic / industrial / corporate imperialism is still something france fitghts against, based on the idea that a country is made for the people that live in it, not for the companies that make money in it.

DV Henkel-Wallace says:

And this is different how?

The US government stopped buying Lenovo PCs when they became a “chinese” (whatever that means) company — though the factory and design centers were the same as when they were owned by IBM. Any concern the USG might have had is no different from the concern a French government might have. Both cases are dumb, I think…except that the French government is correct in that there isn’t any significant European competition, so is trying to be it. Which is consistent with a whole other group of French government decisions not reported in the US.

common sense says:

Re: And this is different how?

Of course they stopped buying Lenovo PCs. How would you like US tax dollars going towards Chinese GDP? It’s a simple matter of economics. I don’t see how the french government wasting valuable resources to provide the same resource is in anyway equivalent to the US/Lenovo matter.

DV Henkel-Wallace says:

Re: Re: And this is different how?

Of course they stopped buying Lenovo PCs. How would you like US tax dollars going towards Chinese GDP? It’s a simple matter of economics. I don’t see how the french government wasting valuable resources to provide the same resource is in anyway equivalent to the US/Lenovo matter.

Hey commonsense, actually the money was going to the Chinese GDP either way since all the factories and even much of the design work were already in China when the stuff was sold under the IBM brand. In fact the corporation Lenovo purchased those assets from IBM and gave IBM a huge chunk of equity….and moved the Lenovo HQ to New York! These days Lenovo probably has proportionately as many US shareholders as IBM! Any risk of Chinese government involvement is unchanged by this transaction — the CG could have influenced the plant just as easily beforehand. As they could with any other PC (HP, Dell, Apple, Gateway etc) all of which are made in China too.

The real reason for the USG to refuse Lenovo as a supplier was as a cheap shot. Oh, and use tax dollars to reduce the competitive pressure on some other corporations. Is that any different from what the French government is doing?

By the way, if you can read French, read the newspapers or talk to some French people. I think you’d find people there feel more scorn for their government than Americans do. Hell, given that the US has 6x the population of France, I would be there are more pro-French-government people in the USA (in absolute terms) than there are in France!

(But it’s true that most French people think France is better than the USA….and really, should that be a surprise?)

I, for one says:

Don't knock the French (too much)

Well, I’m not French so I really don’t really know what I’m talking about, but they seem to have a good track record on doing state initiatives that really work. Ever hear of mini-tel? Tim B Lee and Al Gore were still taking college classes when they had that one working, it wasn’t exactly an “internet” but talk about foresight..

From what I can make out they’re not the crazy socialist lefties they’re painted as here and over the pond, just bureaucratic and into centralisation. Damn thing is, it works. Go to France and take a TGV train, they run on time to the second. They’re also fierecly independent. Which is sort of a good thing because they don’t like to rely on other countries and are actually rather more “secure” than “insecure”. They were in the first three nuclear nations with bomb along with USA and us. They started their own space program with Arianne, now usurped into ESA. And you know, the irony is that we could learn a lot from the French as British and American people, when they don’t like what their government is doing they kick off, bigtime, and get what they want because they’re politically savvy and active. Their wines are the best in the world. French food is amazing. And their countryside is beautiful. But, wtf, I’m English, so I fart in your general direction garlic munching, cheese eating surrender monkeys;)

Seriously though Mr Henkel-Wallace of #5 has it, they are really being rather sensible implementing a backup plan, it’s not as if they are mandating this and there’s no choice.

Chris Miller says:

Re: Don't knock the French (too much)

OK, I won’t kick them too hard. But don’t forget about some of the wine in other places around the world. The Aussies have great wine and so do us yanks in California. If you think the french have the best you have not sampled other places recently. Even Chili’s wine is damn good.

The french are very clever, but their resentment towrd the US and British go back to when the pretended to help the US fight the brits. They really wanted to shame the brits because the brits had shamed them so many times. Then they were going to turn their guns on the US. Of course that never happened.

I just don’t bother with them anymore unless I absolutely have to.

I, for one says:

Re: Re: Don't knock the French (too much)

I have to disagree on the Australian, unless you have a recommendation, personally I wouldn’t cook with it. But yes, your stuff is top drawer, Mondavi, Zinfandel(sp?) is very refreshing indeed and goes for $15 a bottle over here and worth every penny.

demonsun (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Don't knock the French (too much)

Just read some wine magazines, Australia wines are some of the best in the world, and a good one is grange, by penfolds.

And god am I sick and tired of hearing endless rants why french wines are the best in the world. For chrissakes people, there are excellent wines all over the world, tere is no need to restrict yourself based on your own narrow knowledge. I suggest you seek out a good mine store and attend some taskings.

Joey says:

Re: Don't knock the French (too much)

The politically savvy comment sort of got to me. While im not one for French bashing (though it is pretty easy), their political environment is very out of whack at least to my eyes. The French (youth mainly but they have some older instigators) protest all the time and expect the government to instantly cave to their demands (which they have done repeatedly so why wouldnt the protestors think it will work?). On any given weekend car burnings and rioting are regular events. They have over 10% without jobs (is it near 12% by now?) because of both very high minimum wages and very cushy unemployment benefits. In my humble opinion they need drastic overhauls politically and economically but they have little to no chance of going through because of these “polically savvy” activists who are almost just resistent to the notion of change. Im not saying the US doesn’t have its issues, but even in NYC its still a relatively rare thing to come outside and find your car overturned and set ablaze.

taylor says:

Re: Re: Don't knock the French (too much)

Yeah, well, with minimum wage around $5.50 for most states in the U.S., it’s mighty hard to survive, espeically if you have a family. The welfare system just doensn’t provide enough either. Housing prices have gone up drastically, espeically in U.S. suburban areas, but minimum wage has hardly risen.

tychism says:

Re: Re: Re: Wages and housing--

Did you happen to take a look at the minimum wages in the states where this growth is most prevelent? Oregon or California for example? Value is determined by the price someone will pay, not necessarily actual worth.

Also, just because a minimum wage is set forth does not mean you have to settle for it. Hence minimum. Throw some ambition in there, you may be suprised.

Chris Miller says:

French Resentment

The reality is that the french just cannot accept the fact that they are has beens. I don’t know who the next superpower will be (probably china) but it won’t be the french. They are a complete joke the way they resent America for being the number one exporter of culture. I once saw an interview on BBC where someone asked a French Universy Prof. why the English language was gaining so much more popularity then the french language. She said it was because English was a crude and simplistic language that any uneducated and intellectually lazy third wourld person can understand. This backward thinking is exactly why they are wathing the world pass them by.

DataChaucer says:

Re: French Resentment

“They are a complete joke the way they resent America for being the number one exporter of culture”

now don’t make me laugh too hard… BigMac instant gratification for obese idiots, if that is the superior culture, then Bush is a Saint.

Ha, I am amazed that the average American even knows where France is… somewhere sort of East of Berlin??

mrG (profile) says:

why do the french hate monopolies?

Well, y’know, it’s a long story why the French are highly suspicious of big money aristocrats making glowing promises of fairness to all. This is not to say the current stewards of Google are in any way less than impeccable, nor that they won’t ever be as the corporation outlives the founders and moves through the politics of big money aristocratic life. It’s just that, well, they been burned, bad, and that makes them a tad touchy on the subject of who owns the engines of power.

It’s remarkable that you don’t already know this, but just as a refresher in key moments in unamerican history, you might want to try this Wikipedia page and move on from there.

Besides, I thought Americans were all about consumer choice and unfettered alternatives and let the free markets decide …

Gugume says:

Eventhough this service really seems like google earth’s one, and it’s sponsored by the state, offers extra stuff:

the website is the visible part of the iceberg.

The whole projects includes features like :

Extra detailled maps

Public information services :show where road work will take place, real time information on traffic jam, things like this. ( Infectious warnings, radioactivity warning zone ….) basically anything you can do with a map. and that is why it’s state financed… because it’s of public utility!

So for now, the sat map service is a, i agree, a copy of google earth and is state sponsored, so bouhh,

but when we’ll have the whole stuff online, google earth will still have its eyes in order to cry because a corporate shouldn’t be publishing these informations, it’s the role of a state.

A french who has worked on that projet.

Lady Me says:

Re: France's Google

Sounds like most of the comments are “Bash the French”. I agree with #19. This system will be much more than just a Google Earth. I don’t see the short sided Americans doing anything like the French are undertaking. The U.S. is to busy bashing. Just remember who has the A380 and who built the Concord and yes the min-tel was way ahead of the internet by some10 years.

Just me says:

Re: Like Google knows best?

To some extent, I agree with the comment made about not trusting Google, or any search engine for that matter.

However, one has to admit that there is little that can be done at this point in time to really compete with a company such as Google.

In other words, MS has been trying to gain some of the market share for a while now and it is quite obvious that they have failed in achieving anything.

Now that is a company that has been in this business even before Google came on the scene, and let’s not forget Yahoo’s efforts as well.

The point I am trying to make here is very simple…and that is, whoever made the decision to spend French people’s money to compete with Google is simply an idiot.

There are other ways to ensure that they get what they want out of google if try and make a deal with them….like the deal China made with Google, MSN, Yahoo…etc.

That would be a cheaper solution and they would be able to get best value for money from people who have done it already…and not rely on some French companies that have a lot to prove when it comes to producing software…as i don’t personally know any that has produced something of value.

heidekonijn says:

Re: Like Google knows best?

Fully agree there, why would anybody in Europe trust anything coming out of the US? Especially in the light of the Echolon project, the latest news about SWIFT and everything that happened in between. The only reason France has to do this themselves is that Europe at its most devided in centuries.

Mike says:


France is a socialist government, elected by its people. It is the job of the socialist government to substitute big corporations with..well big government. By imposing the benevolent hand of big government where the free market reigns, then you can avoid corruption. That’s the theory anyways. This is what the French people wanted, so there is no sense in criticizing the government.

Whether any of this “works” is of course subject of another debate.

PPN says:

I’ve been living in France for 15 years, so I suppose I know a bit about France…

Joey> Sorry but I just can’t agree with you. You can’t say minimum wage is too high : it’s about 1200€/month. Add taxes and all stuff like that, and it won’t remain much… Now try to figure out that most young people gain 40% to 80% of this because they’re on training courses or anything that “precarious” (let’s not mention cases where they’re aren’t even paid at all), and you’ll realize you’re plainly wrong.

Same about “On any given weekend car burnings and rioting are regular events”. Riots happening early this year doesn’t mean it happens everyday…

Chris Miller> “She said it was because English was a crude and simplistic language that any uneducated and intellectually lazy third wourld person can understand.”

It’s awfully said, and you probably exaggerated it a bit, but in some ways she’s right. I think she didn’t mean to say “English-speaking people are dumb” but more or less “English is simple and so easy to learn”. I speak Vietnamese, French, English and I’m learning German, and I can say that English was A LOT easier to learn : it has the simplest grammar, and you don’t need to know many words to talk with people. That’s it.

Tyshaun says:

Re: Re:

It’s awfully said, and you probably exaggerated it a bit, but in some ways she’s right. I think she didn’t mean to say “English-speaking people are dumb” but more or less “English is simple and so easy to learn”. I speak Vietnamese, French, English and I’m learning German, and I can say that English was A LOT easier to learn : it has the simplest grammar, and you don’t need to know many words to talk with people. That’s it.

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that from a person that knows more than 2 languages. Most people believe English is one of the most difficult to learn because it is a hybrid of slavik and romance languages. I “know” 4 languages and I would say that if English wasnt my first language I don’t know how I would have mastered the grammatical rules. It is true that because of modern slang and the ubiquity of the language that a little knowledge of english goes a long way, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the language itself has very irregular and inconsistent rules.

As per the french, my question to all of my fellow americans is what would you do if everything related to computers came from overseas? Microsoft, google, and all the other “icons” of the modern computer age were based overseas. Don’t you think there would be some type of national movememt to make our own inhouse versions of those products? As much as we as Americans like to think of the internet as international, the rest of the world is probably pretty frustrated that too much control of it lies in the US. From ICANN to ANSI almost all of the major groups shaping the internet and computing are either based in the US or heavily influenced by us. If I were from another country, I would see it as an issues of national pride to at least TRY to make some home grown stuff.

demonsun (user link) says:

Re: Re:

English has the simplest grammar? It may have simple basic structures, but it can be layered up into incredible comlexity, which is one thing many people who learn it struggle with. In comparison the romance languages have very similar grammar, which for someone who is used to creating structure in english, makes it fairly difficult to learn the romance languages.

And unlike french, spanish, etc. English has on average about 5-10 times as large a vocabulary as almost any other language. english may fairly easy to learn, and use in basic situations, but it is fairly difficult to learn if you are seeking to be able to have mastery of it,.

And it is my belief that there are almost no languages with the sheer versatiliy of the english language. Just compare shakespeare with tim berners lee , and compare them wit Pres. Bush. You can alter it and create,a and write for almost anyubody..

PS, I am a Linguistics Minor at Univ.of Buffalo 2nd year

Panic says:

GW Bush

Why do I always have to be the fact checker…

Claim: President George W. Bush proclaimed, “The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”

Status: False.

Origins: Yet another

French fried “George W. Bush is dumb” story has been taken up by those who like their caricatures drawn in stark, bold lines. According to scuttlebutt that emerged in the British press in July 2002, President Bush, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, and France’s President Jacques Chirac were discussing economics and, in particular, the decline of the French economy. “The problem with the French,” Bush afterwards confided in Blair, “is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”

The source was Shirley Williams, also known as the Baroness Williams of Crosby, who claimed “my good friend Tony Blair” had recently regaled her with this anecdote in Brighton.

Lloyd Grove of The Washington Post was unable to reach Baroness Williams to gain her confirmation of the tale, but he did receive a call from Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications and strategy. “I can tell you that the prime minister never heard George Bush say that, and he certainly never told Shirley Williams that President Bush did say it,” Campbell told The Post. “If she put this in a speech, it must have been a joke.”

Before slamming the president, at least be certain that what you’re slamming him for is real.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: GW Bush

When you depend on the Media or the Web, as an average person anyway, unless you can afford a forensic investigation to check the trail of “evidence”, given how often crap is repeated you tend to take things as factual. Why would someone send a lie out to millions of readers? Because we’re all just a flickering light on the edge of insanity, thats why…

mantis108 says:

French trains run on time? HA!!

One comment I thought was hilarious above:

> Go to France and take a TGV train, they run on time to the second.

I just got back from my 5th trip to France, this time it was for a month, and we took trains the entire time we were there. At one point the train 40 mins after our train arrived BEFORE our train and when a French woman saw our family consternation about whether it was the right train to get on or not she said “nope, it’s the next train.. don’t worry though, that’s just French trains in action!”

So much for the accurate French train theory. As generally depressed and miserable as they are, I do have an affinity for, and understanding of, the French. And if you’ve had the bad French experience (e.g. Parisien snobbery, indifference, or disgust), I highly recommend you go to the countryside or a place like Aix-en-Provence where the people are downright friendly and charming.. I’m willing to bet it will turn your opinion around.

PPN says:

Tyshaun> If it was only from my own experience, I wouldn’t said English is easier, but I also have cousins from Germany who thinks so : they learned English in a few months and now speaks an almost-fluent English. When they tried to learn French… Well it wasn’t as easy. After 1-2 years of studying, they could barely throw a correct sentence…

But I think the main difference isn’t only about French being more complicated than English (that’s my point of view, I may be wrong on this one), but also the fact that French people seldom speak the French that you learn from books or dictionnary. They use what they call “Argot”, and the big problem is that it’s very different of “correct French”. This issue was pretty obvious when I first came in France and couldn’t speak French. As I learned it from teacher and spoke with friend I found out that many words didn’t have the same meaning at all. I mean who can guess at first that “se barrer” (literally, to strike oneself) and “se casser” (to break oneself, don’t ask me what it could possibly mean in English :)) both mean in Argot “to go away” ?

I suppose English people do the same (what you call “modern slang”), but the guesswork in French is definitely harder.

Cutter892 says:


Honestly the reason why the US has some much say on the internet is the simple fact that we developed it and implemented it. The internet started off as a US military project call ARPA Net. It was then turned over to US colleges for further developement. If another country developed this or something similar before the US that country would have the biggest say in what happens.

Google on the other hand does not control information they are a pure search engine, all they do is send out trackers to find the most relevent information for your search, and give search relavent adds.

Ternicole says:

French "Google"

Who cares if they want to build their own super search engine, is cyberspace shinking so there is not enough room for it? So what if the government is paying for it….does that mean that the French have to use it? This is the dumbest arguement ever…and really has nothing to do with the wine or political situation there. So they want a big seach engine that is French…so what?

Matthew says:


According to a Yahoo article, the site is http://www.geoportail.fr. But I cannot access that site. That doesn’t look too good.

In France’s defense, Google Earth’s coverage of France is not all that great. There are no buildings, and the eiffel tower is pretty sad looking.

However, for the French to create their own portal, rather than contributing to a world project, shows me the contempt they have for the rest of the planet.

With the Tour de France coming up, some high detail and topographical variety of the area will be a big seller.

sebsauvage (user link) says:

They're not copying Google

It’s not gimmicking Google Earth.

The IGN website only covers french territory, and has a resolution far superior to Google’s.

The move for a french search engine was admitedely stupid given the fact that Google.fr does a remarkable job of indexing french content.

Document scanning is another subject: They do not want to mimic Google here, but make the french book heritage numerically available.

The “Bibliothèque de France” and the “INA” are digitizing all their document for future generation.

Why always relate all french internet moves to Google ?

PPN says:

demonsun> “english may fairly easy to learn, and use in basic situations, but it is fairly difficult to learn if you are seeking to be able to have mastery of it”

That’s what i tried to mean in #51. Of course, talking about literature and having mastery of it, any language is difficult.

“And it is my belief that there are almost no languages with the sheer versatiliy of the english language.”

Then you don’t know the “greatness” of Vietnamese which is one of the few languages in the world without official grammar :).

P.S. : I’m 18, and I’m not studying linguistics at all :p

MelvinSchlubman says:

Credit where it's deserved.

“don’t forget about some of the wine in other places around the world. …”

Though not disputing the quality of French wine, I don’t put much stock in accomplishments that depend, in large measure, on accident of birth. In this case, physical geography. If you believe the book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (Jared Diamon), humans are reliably good at taking advantage of the opportunities that their land/plants/animals/location give them. I’m not impressed with the people simply because they live over vast oil fields. Further, I expect them to get good at extracting it. It would be a surprise if they didn’t, just as it would be if the French and Northern Californian’s *weren’t* good at making wine.

MelvinSchlubman says:

Better examples of French accomplishments

“Just remember who has the A380 and who built the Concord and yes the min-tel was way ahead of the internet by some 10 years.”

You can find better examples of French accomplishments than this. Airbus is generally leap-frogging with Boeing, not clearly superior, the A380 is delayed (last I heard). The Concord was cool, but an economic corner case that they finally, mercifully, pulled the plug on. Long ago when I heard about min-tel I thought it was neat; but what are they doing now — an us-only derivative of Google Earth.

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