French Hypocrisy: Fines Google For Being Soft On Privacy; Now Angry That Google Won't Let It Spy On Users

from the who-said-what-now? dept

We keep trying to explain to people that privacy is always about trade-offs, and arguing for privacy laws that protect "privacy" as if it's a constant thing, will run into trouble. Most of that trouble is in the form of locking in big companies, but sometimes, the trouble is in showing you why understanding trade-offs matters so much.

France has been among the most vocal critics of "big internet companies" and demanding various regulatory pressures be used to punish them. Last year it fined Google $57 million for breaching privacy laws, and appears to be angling for even larger fines.

So it's difficult not to burst out in laughter after finding out that the French government is really, really mad that Google and Apple are protecting people's privacy, when suddenly the French government wants to use those companies to engage in contact tracing. Indeed, it's literally demanding both companies ease their privacy protections to help France track people who might have COVID-19.

France has become the first country to call publicly for Apple and Google to weaken privacy protections around digital contact tracing, after its government admitted that its current plans would not work without changes to smartphone operating systems.

The issue is that, as you likely recall, earlier this month, Google and Apple collaborated on an API system to enable some form of contact tracing in various apps, but that is (a) voluntary, (b) privacy retaining (via regularly rotating identifiers), and (c) limits how much information would be sent to the government. And apparently that's getting in the way of France's more aggressive tracking plans:

France wants to deploy its app by 11 May, without using the special measures Apple and Google have put in place, which are targeted for release in mid-May. That means the country will be forced to use the more limited features already built into iOS, unless Apple changes its policies and allows for far more invasive use of the Bluetooth radio at the heart of its devices.

It's quite incredible to see this play out in practice, in France of all places. Again, the French government has been among the most vocal and aggressive in attacking Google and insisting that its privacy practices are terrible... but as soon as those privacy efforts get in the way of the French government spying on people's whereabouts, its suddenly mad at these companies for doing too much to protect privacy? Maybe Google should see if the French government wants to pay back the fines it levied before it'll take the government's requests seriously.

Filed Under: contact tracing, covid-19, france, gdpr, hypocrisy, privacy
Companies: apple, google


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 12:20pm

    What, the telcos aren't any good for this? What's the angle?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 12:23pm

    Taking France seriously?

    You have GOT to be kidding!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 12:42pm

    Perhaps Google should offer to weaken the security a bit for a price...

    ...how does $57 million sound?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Norahc (profile), 22 Apr 2020 @ 1:53pm

      Re:

      Perhaps Google should offer to weaken the security a bit for a price...

      ...how does $57 million sound?

      Inadequate... Google should mulitply it by a factor of 2 for having to do the extra work, and a factor of 5 because, well, it's France.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Apr 2020 @ 1:11pm

    'How dare you care about privacy we want to violate?!'

    'Terribly sorry, but as the fifty-seven million dollar fine you levied against us made clear privacy is a serious issue, and as such we cannot and will not weaken it just so you can track your citizens easier. You are of course more than welcome to ask your citizens to submit to extensive tracking, but we won't be complicit in helping you do it without their permission.'

    As if Google really needed another reason to get the hell out of that joke of a country as fast as possible...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Federico (profile), 22 Apr 2020 @ 1:27pm

    Privacy in France

    Everything in France is secondary to the supreme principle of the all-powerful central government. Privacy laws, tech regulation and so on are meant to reduce the power of corporations as opposed to the state, not to give more power to the people.

    This is similar of course to Washington's attitude on spying: everything is fine as long as we do it to others, but don't dare any other government plant surveillance devices around the world to compete with our intelligence/military/economic power.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 2:16pm

    The block in question?

    Via Bloomberg:

    Apple’s operating system prevents contact-tracing apps using its Bluetooth technology from running constantly in the background if that data is going to be moved off of the device.

    Great thing for your battery life, eh? It gets better...

    via France24.com

    Apple was so far resisting French demands to make the future app detectable via bluetooth even when its not active.

    They say it won't be mandatory. They say that now, before it has been rolled out. Of course, if they then add the rider "if you don't have it, though, you can't go out", it still isn't mandatory, now is it? And we've never seen a country roll out mandatory software before, have we China?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 6:27pm

      Re: The block in question?

      Next thing you'll be telling me is that their new copyright enforcement laws, which they've promised wouldn't require sites to have upload filters, will have upload filters!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 22 Apr 2020 @ 6:03pm

    Very Hard To Feel Sympathy For Them

    Regardless of what the legalities might be, vast, faceless, amoral megacorporations are not people, and do not deserve to be treated as people. People matter more than corporations, and those (alleged) people who run those corporations must never forget that. Which is why they need reminding about it, once in a while.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 22 Apr 2020 @ 6:33pm

      Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

      Congrats, you've let your hatred/disgust corrupt your thought processes to the point that you're giving a pass on blatant hypocrisy and likely serious privacy concerns simply because you don't like the target of the hypocrisy in question.

      Yup, that'll certainly show them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 22 Apr 2020 @ 8:48pm

        Re: Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

        Except I’m not a corporation, I’m a real person, not a legal fiction of a person, and will remain that way until the day I die.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 9:42pm

          Re: Re: Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

          And that makes you immune to precedents how exactly? Especially when it can easily be used to run around your own rights. Corporations have no rights so it is perfectly fine to require them to record all of your data, retain it, and present it without a warrant. There is a reason rights are transitive from people. You may never be a car but that doesn't mean that you should br okay with Civil Asset Forfeiture.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 3:08am

          Re: Re: Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

          You just argued that you are more important than people who incorporate, which also means they have less rights than you do.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 4:22am

            Re: Re: Re: Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

            When was the last time you saw the people in a corporation have rights, the top leaders aside?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Rocky, 23 Apr 2020 @ 8:01am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

              Do people who work for a corporation somehow lose their rights?

              Do people who incorporate somehow lose their rights?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 7:03am

          Re: Re: Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

          Are you sure you're a person? In this day and age when girls can be boys can be girls and we're supposed to make sure we pick the right preferred pronoun from an ever-growing list, I can't assume you're a person. You may also identify as an alien and prefer the term Gray for all I know. And how do we know that the corporation doesn't identify as a person? Maybe it does, and we're supposed to accept that without question.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 23 Apr 2020 @ 10:33am

          Re: Re: Only a matter of time until 'them' becomes 'you'

          'Waiter, for the second time, steak, not red herring.'

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2020 @ 6:05pm

    It's France, right?

    "French Hypocrisy," n'est-ce pas?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 22 Apr 2020 @ 7:00pm

    "Our statistics are more important than your privacy."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 1:09am

    I'm sorry, but, let's see, a ruling that big Internet companies can't violate user privacy to in order to gain private advantage from the data, then a later ruling that big Internet companies need to compromise user privacy in order to support measures that protect public health in the face of a global pandemic...

    Hypocrisy? Not even actually inconsistent, actually. Yes user privacy should be more important than private advantage, but no, user privacy should not be more important than public health in an emergency.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 23 Apr 2020 @ 5:04am

      Re:

      "Hypocrisy? Not even actually inconsistent, actually. Yes user privacy should be more important than private advantage, but no, user privacy should not be more important than public health in an emergency."

      Actually, yes. Hypocrisy.

      Even in a pandemic I'm fairly sure I wouldn't trust a nation-state - especially france - with my personal data. Especially so given the long, rich history of even traditionally enlightened nation-states making use of such lists for questionable purposes with horrible consequences.

      No matter if that data was collected for the best of reasons.

      Turning right around and saying for the common good we cannot afford the "luxury" of personal privacy is, something the history books are full of warnings against.

      Especially so when that data gathering is unnecessary. The french government is simply being - as per common standard - inept, lazy, and scummy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 7:56am

        Re: Re:

        Not to worry. I'm sure they'll surrender on this issue.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Apr 2020 @ 5:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Not to worry. I'm sure they'll surrender on this issue."

          That'll be the beauty of this from the view of the french government. They can make a law trying to force google to pay entities money for including them in a phone register. They can watch helplessly as google delists half of france and closes down their .fr domain.

          But they'll never actually be in hot water as the french citizenry can still access everything using the google dot com domain instead - possibly excepting french newspapers for which URL they may have to visit the "chilling effects" page.

          So what this offers in reality is for french politicians to channel their angst-ridden inner divas, waxing eloquently about what a bad sport google is being and how french artists are starving to death in the streets of Paris.

          In short this will make french politicians look laughable and inept but not harm them otherwise. That being the case they'll simply ignore every reference to it in future, rather than wave the white flag and surrender.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Joe, 25 Apr 2020 @ 11:11am

        Re: Re:

        We could just not use the bloddy things. Go back to flip phones and home phones. We are stuck at home after all. If we don't like it we as a people can certainly stop it by just not using the tech they plan on using for this.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 1:57am

    Good to see

    The (German) government has successfully ostracized the supporters of privacy-respecting solution in PEPP-PT, which is an European equivalent and/or compatible with the Apple/Google approach. (Apple/Google was announced after PEPP-PT.) Initially there was some hope conveyed in the fact that PEPP-PT includes many various actors of society, including trusted ones. Now that hope was destroyed, but it's good to see two somewhat unexpected, but powerful actors still in the game for a privacy-respecting solution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tim Apple, 23 Apr 2020 @ 9:52am

    It's a joke right?
    A $57 million fine is what, 10 minutes of profit for Google?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 23 Apr 2020 @ 1:43pm

    REFUND...

    refund that $57 million PLUS a 5% interest...and we MIGHT do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jean, 25 Apr 2020 @ 6:40am

    So what, you all Google fanboys now?

    First off, French government is a joke (it has been for at least 12 years now). Second : what's that rancour that transpires through so many comments ? You all feel Google is a nice corporation acting for your best self-interest ? You think there is no privacy issue with the champion of surveillance capitalism ? What about China and project dragonfly? That made you cheer up too? Google, like any corporation, has no other goal than making a shit ton of money for the shareholders. It doesn't give two shits about anything else. French government is a farce, yes. Google is the good guy rooting for your privacy? Give me a break.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2020 @ 9:36am

    What is this? France's own version of 'Who's On First?" It's like some bad Vaudeville routine. France fines Google for privacy violations and then wants Google to allow it to spy on its own people? Got to appreciate that "do as we say, not as we do" mentality going on in France. Google needs to tell France to "suck it".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 25 Apr 2020 @ 11:30am

    At some point

    At some point, it may just be too much trouble to have offices in France. If frogs want to deal with Google, they can come to the States and do it subject to US law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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