Google and Facebook multiply conflicts in France and the United States

For fifteen days, Google and Meta (parent company of Facebook, editor’s note) continue to make headlines in legal and regulatory news. As of January 6, 2022, the National Commission for Computing and Liberties (Cnil) lost record fines: 150 million euros for the search engine google.fr and its video platform youtube.fr, as well as 60 million euros the social network for facebook.com.

The facebook.com, google.fr and youtube.com websites offer a button to immediately accept cookies. On the other hand, they do not put in place an equivalent solution (button or other) to allow the Internet user to easily refuse the deposit of these cookies. Several clicks are necessary to refuse all cookies, against only one to accept themβ€œ, develops the Cnil in its decision.

Cookies: the CNIL fines Google and Facebook for a history of clicks

An “operating opacity” on neighboring rights

Barely a week later, on January 13, the two American firms are, this time, in the crosshairs of the National Assembly. The president and the rapporteur of the fact-finding mission on the application of neighboring rights for the benefit of the agencies,
publishers and professionals in the press sector, calling on them to make public the agreements entered into with press publishers within the framework of the application of the directive on related rights.

The latter, which forces the ogres of content to remunerate publishers and press agencies for their takeovers on the Internet, applies to a large “opacityβ€œon the conditions and on the income, underline the deputy (LR) of Haute-Savoie Virginie Duby-Muller and her colleague (MoDem) of Meurthe-et-Moselle Laurent Garcia.

“LPublishers and press agencies do not have the means for a clean cooperation with digital platforms given the opacity of their operation”, criticize the two elected officials.

Two years after the adoption of the directive and the promulgation of the law, the number of remuneration agreements under neighboring rights is quite marginal and the intention of the celebrant has not been respectedβ€œ, they will follow.

Neighboring rights: agreements between Google, Facebook and publishers are opaque, criticizes a parliamentary report

A hearing before the Council of State

Ironically, the day before, Google summoned European law to oppose an initial fine of 100 million euros drawn up at the end of 2020 by the National Commission for Computing and Liberties ( CNIL). Already, the latter criticized him for non-compliance with the legislation on information prior to the filing of cookies, web advertising trackers.

Before the Council of State, the Mountain View multinational pleaded, on January 12, for the cancellation of the said fine and its referral to the Court of Justice of the European Union, considering that the Cnil did not have jurisdiction in matter. In reality, the public rapporteur, whose opinion is often followed by French administrative judges, has reinforced the French Internet policeman by concluding that the interpretation of the law was clear.

A complaint to the New York court

Latest episode: the most senior leaders of Google and Meta will find themselves in court in New York following a lawsuit filed by a coalition of American states led by Texas. The legal documents revealed on January 14 clearly refer to Google bosses Sundar Pichai and Philipp Schindler, as well as Sheryl Sandberg for Facebook, even though her name is crossed out with a thick black line.

According to their accusations, the online search giant sought to oust all competition by manipulating advertising auctions – the ultra-sophisticated system that determines which advertisements are displayed on web pages based on the user’s anonymized profile.

“These negotiations were carried out in September 2018 on an agreement between Google and Facebook signed by Philipp Schindler, vice-president and director of sales and operations of the advertising branch of Google, and Madame (name crossed out, editor’s note), director of operations and member of the board of directors of Facebook, who herself had once headed advertising at Google,” state prosecutors said.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai also personally approved the terms of the agreement.

The complaint cites an email Sheryl Sandberg sent to Mark Zuckerberg, where she describes the project as “strategically very important”.

According to the prosecution, Google was concerned that an alternative system for allocating advertising space was being adopted too widely, allowing site publishers to circumvent its commissions. The Californian group would then have convinced its neighbor to form an alliance.

“The non-exclusive agreement with Google and similar agreements we have with other auction platforms have helped increase competition for ad placements,” a Meta spokesperson said.

“These professional relationships allow Meta to provide more value to advertisers while compensating publishers fairly: everyone wins,” he continued.

Google for its part denounced a complaint “riddled with inaccuracies and without legal basis”. “Online advertising is a fiercely competitive industry, which has lowered advertising costs and given publishers and advertisers more choice. We will continue to defend ourselves against these alleged unfounded claims in court,” a spokeswoman said. Saturday at AFP.

On the role played by Sundar Pichai, she clarified that “every year ‘hundreds of deals that don’t win the CEO’s approval’ were signed. “It was no different in this case. And contrary to the assertions of the Attorney General, this agreement was never a secret (…)”.