back to article Foreign firms must obey EU laws no matter where they're based, says EU. Hear that, Google?

In the midst of the ongoing antitrust negotiations with Google, Europe’s competition chief doesn’t give a fig where the search engine is from — it must simply obey EU laws or else. “In this, as in any other investigation, we are indifferent to where the companies involved happen to be headquartered," said Competition …

  1. Vimes

    Foreign firms must obey EU laws no matter where they're based, says EU.

    If this really is the case, then why is safe harbour still allowed to exist when people were warning about it before Snowden even leaked all that information?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Left hand ... right hand ...

      (or less charitably, arse-elbow, elbow-arse)

  2. codejunky Silver badge

    Strict privacy laws

    Remember them? Massive data collection, taking their details without consent and profiling them. Hard to tell if I am describing google or various govs of the EU. At least google offers something in return (software) and as part of the market has to abide by data collection laws of consent.

    Not trying to make google out as good but the various govs do have difficulty looking like the soldiers of virtue and protectors of the people.

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      Re: Strict privacy laws

      "Not trying to make google out as good but the various govs do have difficulty looking like the soldiers of virtue and protectors of the people."

      Yes, but who do we have the ability to actually vote out if we do not like what they are getting up to?

      OK, I know that when we vote we often get more of the same but with a different coloured label attached, and yes there is a democratic deficiency with a lot of the institutions of the EU. What is the alternative? Do we blindly go down the route that companies in the US seem to prefer, i.e "All your data are belong to us." Or do we at least try and rein them in using the tools and levers that we have?

      I know which I would prefer.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Strict privacy laws

        @ nematoad

        "Yes, but who do we have the ability to actually vote out if we do not like what they are getting up to?"

        Businesses. Either we pay for their products or dont. If we dont and enough of us feel that way then they go out of business. However this model breaks down when it is a business which works for government, and so government take our money and give it to those we may dislike. Add to the mix how the gov is made up of an electable group (increasingly becoming unelectable) with severe media skew and dirty manoeuvres as well as the vast unelected who run/implement government and you have a good question.

        "OK, I know that when we vote we often get more of the same but with a different coloured label attached, and yes there is a democratic deficiency with a lot of the institutions of the EU. What is the alternative?"

        Massive left of the greens, shift right of UKIP or many others we barely hear of. You are right about the EU as the choice is in,in,in or dont vote for them 'coz dey ait colour'. If it is all the same with different colours then it seems your vision of the government agrees with my post.

        "Do we blindly go down the route that companies in the US seem to prefer, i.e "All your data are belong to us." Or do we at least try and rein them in using the tools and levers that we have?"

        Good question. Do we go the route of the US? Or do we do as Germany did and co-operate with the excuse of 'over a barrel' to share this data anyway? Preference of shafted or shafted is not a choice regardless of your preference. The difference I see is that a business can be rejected by the public and so inflict harm if enough people really care. Do that to a gov and they raise tax to pay for the attacks against you.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Strict privacy laws

          The point is that you if the business is a monopoly (Google), you can't not use them (pay for their products) ...

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Strict privacy laws

      Well, government do massive data collection to protect you from terrorists, pedophiles, etc. etc, don't they? So governments too "offer" some kind of service in return for your data, don't they?

      There's really nothing you can offer in return for a pervasive and invasive data collection - be you a government, or a company. Lame excuse. really.

      PS: right now it was a US agency to perform a massive data collection even about EU citizens, not EU governments, but GHCQ on behalf of their cousins...

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Strict privacy laws

        @ LDS

        "There's really nothing you can offer in return for a pervasive and invasive data collection - be you a government, or a company. Lame excuse. really."

        I agree. The difference is that google has to comply with laws and rules where people consent to give data as payment (or part payment) for the products/services. The gov's just do it and change laws (even retrospectively) to legalise what they are already doing. Both are invasive but one of them is chosen by the people and the other not.

        "PS: right now it was a US agency to perform a massive data collection even about EU citizens, not EU governments, but GHCQ on behalf of their cousins..."

        If I remember right germany was caught out joining in and helping the US in return for a pat on the head.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: Strict privacy laws

          The problem is that some companies now feel so big and "international" they would like to act as if each country rules don't apply. What's really dangerous is not only when a gov tries to change the rules - because if it has to do it openly in any democracy it undergoes public scrutiny and elections can change those in charge (although many people are so uselessly scared they are ready to give away their freedom for some false security) - it's when rules are not openly changed but bended or ignored.

          Google (et al.) is working that way, trying to pretend it's not breaking any rule, and moreover, it tries to convince people they get some (cheap) service in exchange, and it could become really difficult to stop it, if the very government chosen by citizen to ensure law is respected.

          1. codejunky Silver badge

            Re: Strict privacy laws

            @ LDS

            "The problem is that some companies now feel so big and "international" they would like to act as if each country rules don't apply"

            Sounds like the US gov, UK gov and the various conspirators worldwide including in europe. And in neither case is it right. But google provides a service which people choose to use and will pull out of hostile countries such as the news service in Spain. When acting perfectly legally google is the brand associated with a new tax to punish the employers by the huge monopoly- the UK gov. If a country thinks google is going too far they should adjust the law, and if google doesnt like the law they can leave. But it seems pointless to complain about googles privacy laws when the govs have no respect for them either.

            As I said, we have more freedom to reject google than we do the gov because we choose to give them our data. If we want to reign in googles data demands then maybe we need to start looking at the greater offenders first.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Strict privacy laws

      Agree. If the 'govs' had done their job, we wouldn't be in this position. Its because they're so ill equipped to regulate the internet. For starters Governments are constantly playing catch-up on subtleties they just don't understand. As soon as they learn about cookies, they still haven't heard of Flash-Cookies. When they get the latter they still can't appreciated web-tracking 2.0:

      Analysing unique-browser-settings,

      ETAGs

      Serverside cookies,

      Cached sessions,

      Draw-something browser tracking,

      List-of-installed-software,

      Generic IP tracking w/o Tor etc etc.

      The list just goes on and on, and every year we see new cunning schemes. So what's the solution? Government staff and elected & unelected officials should be forced to attend tech training. Key posts should be reserved for those who can show actual tech competence... Stop hiring pricey outside consultants who have their own agenda! But of course, no one ever gets fired for incompetence in government... Fired for scandals? Yes! Lack of ability? Never!

      Honestly, I feel sorry for tech companies sometimes. They have to school the bureaucrats and explain everything to them in childlike terms.. The DPC here fills posts with the mantra of 'jobs for the lads'. Every time they investigate Facebook they have to get FB staff to explain the playing field to them. The Foxes teaching the Hens? C'mon! Data Protection needs smart Lawyers who have actual Tech Talent...

  3. Dan Paul

    Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

    This kind of idiocy and willy waving will only result in international trade wars and Nationalist Chaebols. Let's nationalize the operations and assets of all foreign companies doing business in the US. National Grid and BP come to mind.

    How would the EU like it if the US and every other country in the the world were to implement similar laws? There would be no reason to trrade with your neighbors and world economies would crash.

    Oh, you can't make a comptetitive product? Then lobby the government to have the competitors removed retroacitvely. Grow up and stop relying on "Mama" to fight your battles for you.

    Just because some company does business in another country does not mean that their entire corporate structure and national sovreignity is exposed to the laws of that country.

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

      "Just because some company does business in another country does not mean that their entire corporate structure and national sovreignity is exposed to the laws of that country."

      No, certainly not, but when you do business on our territory you play by our rules or you don't do business here.

      Though it does seem that the US is not in a position to lecture others on that. See

      1. Grilgar

        Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

        The issue in the internet age is whether Google, et al, are technically "doing business" in the EU at all. If they are headquartered in the US and their servers are in the US (or at least outside the EU), then does the fact that EU citizens access their services make them subject to EU laws? It seems a fairly short argument to "no."

        1. Len

          Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

          Google trades in the EU, there is no doubt about that. They have local offices across the EU where local people sell localised (and often translated) services to local businesses. These businesses pay their local Google office (which are locally incorporated companies) in their local currencies.

          If a Spanish Product Manager based at Google’s Madrid office tailors a Google product to fit a specific Spanish industry to help them target Spanish customers and a Spanish Sales Executive based at Google’s Madrid office sells that tailored product to a business based in Spain who pays Google in euros they are trading locally in Spain (and therefore in the EU). That the CEO of Google is based in the US is irrelevant.

          By trading in a country a company is subject to the local laws. Don’t like them? Then don’t trade in that country.

        2. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

          The German interpretation is that an action happens where it has effect (most EU countries are likely to have similar rules). If I sit at my computer in Germany, or Britain, or France, and the information that is typed is collected by someone, then my privacy is violated, and since I'm in Germany, Britain, or France, the effect of this violation is in Germany, Britain or France. It doesn't matter whether the server is in the USA, or the company is in the USA.

          Imagine Google invented something that could cause the user of their services to have nosebleed. Turning this invention on would be assault. And it would be an assault in the country where the nosebleed happens. Same with privacy violation. It happens where the person is whose privacy was violated. Therefore EU laws fully apply.

    2. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

      "How would the EU like it if the US and every other country in the the world were to implement similar laws? There would be no reason to trrade with your neighbors and world economies would crash."

      You mean like when the US government fines French banks for breaking US sanctions against Iran? Go read some news sometime, idiot. Governments around the world apply the law to companies, even if they are headquartered in other countries, like, for example, BP, which you even mention in your rambling rant.

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

      Well, I would like to see US reactions if EU based company would try to operate in US and trying to evade US rules - what happened to Swiss banks helping to evade taxes? But there's a long story of US trying to evade local laws, i.e. the rapes performed by US soldiers in Japan - how long didi it take to obtain they were judged by a Japanese court and not by a far mildier US one?

    4. lucki bstard

      Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

      If it would mean that the US implemented a strict isolation policy and cut itself off from the rest of the world then go for it.

      I'm not too sure what the US government has done to make the world better since 1776, and judging by their standards on education etc it looks like they haven't helped their own citizen's either.

      So US withdraw from the rest of the world, put up barriers at every land border and prevent access in and out, please. Quite frankly the rest of the world is happy without you.

      1. sqlrob
        Trollface

        Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

        "I'm not too sure what the US government has done to make the world better since 1776, and judging by their standards on education etc it looks like they haven't helped their own citizen's either."

        Says the person posting on the internet.

        1. Fink-Nottle
          Headmaster

          Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

          > Says the person posting on the internet.

          Says the person using the Latin alphabet to write in English.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

            Also using a technology developed in Switzerland by a Britain ...

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

            "Says the person using the Latin alphabet to write in English."

            Says the human using fingers to communicate. (How far can we take this?).

            Some of you need to stop being trolled by the anti-US, anti-EU, anti-ant squad. It' 2015 and there isn't one government on Earth that sees in any other color than Gold. Choice without deviance looks like this...

            A. Get owned.

            B. Be owned.

            C. All of the above.

      2. fishbone
        WTF?

        Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

        Perhaps that fine continental history you've read points out that the US government is the only reason this discussion isn't carried out in German. Do that by yourself next time the froggies and limeys set up another country for economic doom that can only end badly. If you don't like Google don't click on it , in the end if you initiate contact and request a free service that expands into something more by your own design why'd they have to comply with all applicable laws across your borders, you went to them first.

        1. dan1980

          Re: Tit for Tat, EU. We can do that too!

          @fishbone

          Whatever your point may be, it's clearly not grounded in any knowledge of international business.

          The fact that the US decided to kick-start their depressed economy through the huge spending and manufacturing requirements involved in joining a war two years late and then using it as a springboard to scare everyone by testing its atomic weaponry is great but hardly relevant to the laws that a country (any country) imposes on the corporations operating inside their own borders.

          What you may be missing is that Google is not some free service. It is an advertising business operating in these countries and so it is completely reasonable that they abide by the laws of those countries.

          So what you say is right, but applies to Google - if you don't want to follow the laws of a country, then don't do business there.

  4. Lee D Silver badge

    Quite right.

    No matter where your headquarters are, if you are TRADING in the EU, under whatever sector, you are bound by EU law.

    And, with "google.co.uk" etc. not to mention all their advertising business targeting and taking money from UK customers, they are certainly trading in the EU even if they are an American/Irish company.

    The tax law might be complex in such areas, but the consumer law isn't. Enforcement might be tricky but nowhere near impossible, as Microsoft found out despite only having the same US/Irish presence.

  5. ratfox Silver badge
    Unhappy

    No merging of information about users between services

    Ok, so Google Now shows me info about flights I have tickets for (which it knows from my emails), about my upcoming appointments (which it knows from Calendar), about the last train home (which it knows from Google Maps), about recent updates to websites I like (which it knows from my Chrome history), about the weather where I am (which it knows from the GPS in my Android phone).

    How is it supposed to be doing any of this, if Google is not allowed to use information from one service in another service, even with my consent?

    But oh, perish the thought Google could show me ads for flower shops because I have a dinner appointment on Valentine's day!

    1. lucki bstard

      Re: No merging of information about users between services

      Or show you adds for Viagra depending on your wife's search choices....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No merging of information about users between services

      Either you have been paid by Google to post that message or I hope Google Now will also teach you how to get a life.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No merging of information about users between services

      > How is it supposed to be doing any of this, if Google is not allowed to use information from one service in another service

      I was thinking about this the other day while travelling, and realised that in fact it is not necessary for all that information to be associated to one individual and kept by a single entity in order to provide the "services" you describe.

      Take Germany as an example of how it is entirely possible to function without centralised handling of personal data.

  6. TeeCee Gold badge
    Mushroom

    Sauce for the Goose....

    Maybe if the US were to do away with "we pwn teh hole wurld"[1] legislation like API and SOX, we might be prepared to talk about the problem.

    [1] 'Cos you get the impression that the authors of such can't do difficult stuff like spelling and tying their own shoelaces.

  7. stewwy

    missing the point

    Trade with the EU and it's citizens, then those EU citizens rights should be protected as per local (EU)laws.

    Trade with the US and it's citizens, then those US citizens rights should be protected as per local (US)laws.

    Simples!

    You just can't pick the law juristiction you want, which is what this is really about.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: missing the point

      So what happens when an American is in Europe or a European is on American soil? And the specific rights in question clash? Whose law takes precedence? The soil or the citizenship?

      1. Lars Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: missing the point

        @ Charles 9

        Brits drive on the right side of the road in the USA and Americans drive on the left side of the road in the UK. Hope this helped.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: missing the point

          Nope. That's due to the roads being owned or at least regulated by the respective governments. Their road, their rules. But what about privacy rights? They're of a more personal nature and don't involve government property. So who gets the call? The country of location or the country of origin?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Charles 9 Re: missing the point

            Actually no he's not missing the point, try getting arrested in the UK, France, or whatever EU country and see what your rights are.

            Hint: the cops won't give a flying fuck what your nationality is, you are subject to the local laws.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: missing the point

      wherever The office for the company you are doing businesses with is located is the law that applies NOT the corporate headquarters, NOT your location, NOT your nationality.

      If you phone "Joes plumbing" in NYC and order taps (facets) to be sent via the post to the UK the law would be the law relevant in NYC (USA). so why by using a PC and the internet to order these goods from the same place should this change?

      If the company ("Joes plumbing") has offices in the EU and you do business with the EU office then its the EU laws that apply.

      Companies just can't pick the law jurisdiction they want, which is what this is really about. and that applies to GOV as well. (USA keep your subpoenas and fishing exercises restricted to your own geographic area. and out of IRELAND)

      or put another way.

      Trade physically from the EU abide by local (EU) laws.

      Trade physically from the US abide by local (US) laws.

      Trade physically from AUS abide by local (AUS) laws.

      Trade physically from India abide by local (Indian) laws.

      ETC

      OH...... and pay taxes where you Physically Trade.... Just a WILD idea !!!!!!!

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: missing the point

        "OH...... and pay taxes where you Physically Trade.... Just a WILD idea !!!!!!!"

        But here's a wild idea to your wild idea. Consider e-commerce, where the buyer and seller never meet but stuff gets transferred between them. Now you have a clash because each party is within the borders of his respective country, so each country can legally claim jurisdiction: the buyer because currency changes hands in his country, the seller because the goods ship from his country. So if the laws clash between them, which takes precedence? The buyer's law or the seller's law?

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: missing the point

        Actually, in your example, all the things happening in NYC follow US law, while all the things happening in the UK would follow UK law. If I call Joe's plumbing and wake him up in the middle of the night and that allows him to sue me according to US law for disturbing his precious sleep, he can sue me. If Joe delivers goods that are not acceptable according to UK law, I can sue him. In each case it might be difficult to enforce any judgement.

        Unless Joe of Joe's plumbing is sure he can handle UK law, he might be well advised not to deliver to the UK.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "In 2012, Google merged its privacy policy for Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar etc., so that it could build a complete profile of users. Caspar claims this breaches Germany’s strict privacy laws"

    That's fine - but what happens if another country has chosen to have less strict privacy law? Does EU law follow German law, as to simply impose that on all that would be grossly unfair, or do we have separate laws in separate countries, in which case there is no need for an EU-wide antitrust case, as the individual countries decide things?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Even better? What happens when a lax citizen is in a strict country (or vice versa) and a clash occurs (where the laws of the two locations differ)? Which law applies?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        We have laws ...

        ... in the EU which determine precedence, and it "depends"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > That's fine - but what happens if

      Dear AC, you appear to have a deep misunderstanding of the matter, which makes your question a non-sequitur.

      To put it in very simple terms, it is my right as a EU (legal) person to provide services in any EU country, but I have to comply with all relevant laws and regulations of that country for the services I provide there *only*. So for example if I'm a basket weaver and Germany requires that I provide warranty with the baskets, but France doesn't, I only have to insure those baskets sold in Germany but not in France. Of course, it may just make sense for me to insure all baskets regardless of where they're sold, e.g., to simplify administrative matters, but that's my choice.

      Same thing applies to any other markets with multiple jurisdictions, such as the US, the UK, Germany itself (for the uninformed: it is a federal state), etc.

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