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France joins European probe into Facebook

European data protection authorities have joined forces to probe Facebook's privacy controls, a French watchdog said on Thursday, putting the popular US social media giant under fresh pressure.

France joins European probe into Facebook
Photo: Maria Elena/Flickr
"There is concerted collective action between five European authorities, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain," said Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, head of France's CNIL privacy watchdog.
   
She added that the Netherlands was coordinating the project, which consists of a working group involving representatives from the five countries that will look into Facebook's practices.
   
Facebook has for years been dogged by concerns over how well privacy is safeguarded online.
   
Falque-Pierrotin said Facebook's privacy policy was at the heart of discussions, and data protection watchdogs are likely to examine the sharing of data between different apps such as Instagram or Whatsapp, both of which belong to the US giant.
   
Facebook, whose international headquarters are based in Dublin, for its part said it was acting in compliance with data protection legislation.
   
"We recently updated our terms and policies to make them more clear and concise, we're confident the updates comply with applicable laws," a Facebook spokeswoman told AFP.
   
Earlier this month, an Austrian law graduate filed a closely-watched class action suit against the social network for alleged privacy breaches.
   
Max Schrems and 25,000 other users are suing the social media giant for various rights violations, ranging from the "illegal" tracking of their data under European Union law to Facebook's involvement in the PRISM surveillance programme of the US National Security Agency.
   
Google has also been in the firing line over privacy issues and has had multiple run-ins with authorities in Europe.
   
In December, for instance, Dutch privacy watchdog DPA warned Google it faced a hefty fine if it did not fix alleged breaches in data protection laws when it uses personal details for targeted advertising.
 

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FACEBOOK

Facebook agrees with France to pay €106 million in back taxes

US social media giant Facebook on Monday said it had agreed with the French government to pay €106 million in back taxes for its French operations over a 10-year period from 2009, and to pay 50 percent more tax in the current year.

Facebook agrees with France to pay €106 million in back taxes
Many of the US digital giants have their EU headquarters in low-tax-regime countries. Photo: AFP

“We take our tax obligations seriously, pay the taxes we owe in all the markets in which we operate and work closely with tax administrations around the world to ensure compliance with all applicable tax laws and resolve any disputes,” a Facebook France spokesperson said in a statement.

The statement said that since 2018, Facebook changed its sales structure so that “income from advertisers supported by our teams in France is registered in this country”.

“This year we are paying €8.46 million in income tax, an increase of almost 50 percent compared to last year,” it said. 

“We have also entered into an agreement with the tax authorities covering the years 2009-2018, under which we will make a payment of €106 million.”

The payment by American digital giants of tax on revenues in the country in which they are accrued has been the subject of a longstanding conflict between France and the United States. 

Big EU countries say the so-called GAFA – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – are unfairly exploiting tax rules that let them declare profits in low-tax havens, depriving governments of a fair share of their fiscal payments.

Many of the US digital giants have their EU headquarters in low-tax-regime countries. 

The dispute between France and the United States on the digital giants' tax has escalated to the extent that the United States in July unveiled heavy import duties on France.

The office of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer found France's digital services tax was discriminatory and “unfairly targets US digital technology companies,” and said it would impose punitive duties of 25 percent on $1.3 billion worth of French products.

But it will hold off on collecting the fees to allow time for the dispute to be resolved.

READ ALSO: Trump's US wine tariffs 'threaten 100,000 jobs in French countryside'

 

In the meantime, France, Britain, Spain, Italy and others have imposed taxes on the largest digital companies.

US officials have slammed these moves as discriminating against American firms, and say any new levies should come only as part of a broader overhaul of international tax rules.

In January, 137 countries agreed to negotiate a deal on how to tax tech multinationals by the end of 2020, under the auspices of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

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