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French ISP Free takes a tilt at Google — and gets its wrists slapped

US adver­tis­ing sales man­agers and busi­ness devel­op­ment man­agers with an eye to suc­cess­ful online adver­tis­ing sales may be inter­est­ed in a brouha­ha which has bro­ken out across the pond in France.

Just sev­en days after French ISP “Free” took all of its ads off Google sites (or sites vis­it­ed via the search leviathan), the country’s junior min­is­ter for SMEs, Fleur Pel­leri, ordered it to remove the blockade.

Who foots the bill for broad­band in the com­ing upgrade?

The dis­pute is over who foots the mas­sive bill for upgrad­ing broad­band so that it can cope with the bur­geon­ing demands of the dig­i­tal econ­o­my. When Free imposed its ban, it blocked all ads on YouTube and on Google search results. Its bil­lion­aire founder Xavier Niel, known through­out the Fran­coph­o­ne world as the Gal­lic Steve Jobs, was accused by one pun­dit, Julien Delat­te, of mak­ing a sym­bol­ic ges­ture to show Google it isn’t all pow­er­ful. In real­i­ty the week-long block­ade has had zero impact on the country’s dig­i­tal economy.

Even so, it was a sym­bol­ic ges­ture which cer­tain­ly hit the head­lines. The Gov­ern­ment in France is deep in nego­ti­a­tions with Ama­zon and Google over what each par­ty should pro­vide for the infra­struc­ture and archi­tec­ture of the French inter­net. Since each of these com­pa­nies are sub­ject to min­i­mal tax pay­ments in France, the room for coun­try­wide dis­gruntle­ment was very wide.

Should ISPs take it upon them­selves to block ads?

But so far, pub­lic opin­ion in France hasn’t been swayed by Niel’s ges­ture. Despite wide­spread sus­pi­cion of a Google-spawned “Big Broth­er” soci­ety where the behe­moth creams off all the advan­tages of con­tent with­out hav­ing to pay for it, no bar­ri­cades in the street emerged. As Delat­te put it, “It is seen as a war between two big play­ers, nei­ther of which will real­ly lose out, while the small fish­es — the sites that rely on adver­tis­ing — are killed.”

The pop­u­la­tion of France is much more con­cerned to ensure that each web­site takes respon­si­bil­i­ty for the adver­tis­ing and con­tent it pro­vides. Free speech and web neu­tral­i­ty, in short – and free doesn’t appear to have per­suad­ed them that it’s on their side. As anoth­er expert, Fran­cois Groiller (of Fred and Farid Group) puts it, “I believe the best ad block­ers are the peo­ple them­selves. Mak­ing it easy to block ads is good, but forc­ing it on peo­ple is intru­sive and rais­es eth­i­cal questions.”



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