At the start of this year, the second-largest French ISP, Free, took the surprising decision to release an update for its customers which allowed them to block third party ads if they so desired. Even more surprising was the fact that a total blocking of such ads was the default position created by the update, so that it was up to the customer in question to “opt-in” to receive any ads. As reported in Wired, such action was vehemently opposed by internet advertisers and indeed the French Minister for the Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin. The Minister is reported as having said that such action was “inconsistent with a free and open internet, to which I am very attached”. Yesterday, the ISP bowed to pressure from the Minister and key industry players, by restoring access to internet ads, including those served by Google.
Many see Free’s actions as an backlash against Google. The company behind the internet’s most-used search engine, has long been criticised by other industry players because of the heavy demands on bandwidth of its YouTube service, which are onerous for ISPs, who see little in return. Google’s AdServe technology allows targeted advertising of consumers by online businesses, and it has been estimated that blocking of such ads by Free could have cost Google up to 1 million Euros a day in lost revenues.
This is the latest in a serious of setbacks for the search engine. In October 2012, Google threatened to exclude French media sites from search results in light of France considering proposals to make search engines pay for content. At the end of last year, in France as in the UK, Google faced much negative press in the wake of the publication of details of its tax efficiency schemes. Google may have won a battle this week in its ability to once again freely provide advertising to French consumers, but it still has a long war to fight on French soil in order to rebuild what is arguably a severely damaged public image.