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French minister snubs Google event in Paris

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French minister snubs Google event in Paris
Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti's office told AFP she had decided not to go as planned to the launch of Google's Paris "Lab". File Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP
15:42 CET+01:00
France's culture minister controversially snubbed Google on Tuesday, cancelling, at the last minute, her attendance at the launch of the US internet giant's cultural hub in Paris, citing concerns over data protection and other issues.

The French government is at loggerheads with Google over privacy, a push to make it pass on part of its advertising revenue to newspapers and other content providers its search engine links to, as well as its controversial tax arrangements.

Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti's office told AFP she had decided not to go as planned to the launch of the "Lab" - which Google Vice President Vint Cerf attended - so as not to be seen as fully backing the tech firm "despite the quality of the project".

"At this stage, we do not have enough assurances on a certain number of issues," one aide said, adding Filippetti wanted Google to "commit more resolutely" on areas such as the protection of personal data and taxation.

Cerf said he was "very disappointed" by Filippetti's last-minute cancellation.

"It's a disappointment because this is not about politics, this is about culture. This is about recognizing global culture and making it available, and exploring technology and the way in which it affects art," he said in an interview with parliamentary channel Public Senat.

The Lab is a place in the French capital designed to enable artists, museums, foundations and other cultural players to meet the US giant's engineers and gain access to its technology.

A workshop equipped with experimental technology such as a giant interactive screen, a 3D printing stand and an ultra high-resolution camera will be made available and the Lab will also set up a residency programme for young artists from around the world.

It is a physical extension of Google's online Cultural Institute, which showcases exhibitions, archives and monuments from around the world on the Internet.

Like other technology giants, Google has come under the spotlight following revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of widespread online eavesdropping by US and other intelligence agencies.

But the firms have argued they have no choice but to give information when requested to do so by the US government.

Earlier this month, Google said the number of requests for user data from governments and law enforcement organs had doubled since 2010.

Indeed, Google turned the tables on the French government in November, joining in outraged opposition to the Military Programming Bill, which would allow for a massive expansion of the government's capacity to perform secret surveillance on its own citizens.

Aside from Snowden's revelations, France's data protection watchdog maintains Google has failed to comply with the European country's national privacy guidelines and announced in September it would take action against the US giant.

France is also currently investigating Google's practice of channelling revenues through Bermuda to reduce its exposure to taxes in a number of countries.

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