Sacre bleu! France’s President François Hollande has proposed that companies like Facebook and Google pay taxes for the privilege of collecting French users’ data.
The proposal is part of a report on how the French government can profit from internet companies not subject to high French capital gains, dividend and corporate taxes.
The report tries to justify the tax on data collection by claiming that Google and Facebook’s users are “in effect, working for these companies without pay by providing the personal information that lets them sell advertising.”
This is the pinnacle of French innovation.
Jigga what? Google and Facebook’s users willingly trade their data for services. Taking bits of information rather than dollars from customers doesn’t change the nature of the trade. Secondly, even if users were working for free (which they’re not), but instead exchanging data for services, what business is it of the French government if they do?
The irony here is that the impulse to tax anything remotely innovative or profitable to death is a huge part of the reason France isn’t producing their own Facebooks and Googles. That, plus huge regulatory barriers to entry and the government’s readiness to prop up failing incumbents with subsidies.
The ability to turn data into profit may be the most important innovation we’ve seen in our lifetimes. We’ve given Google and Facebook our information. And what we have gotten in exchange has completely changed life as we know it for the better. Google has absolutely revolutionized the way information is organized. What used to take months is now done in seconds. The wealth created solely through Google’s search algorithm is absolutely incalculable. Facebook similarly has vastly improved the way we connect with each other online. It’s now possible — easy, in fact — to keep up with hundreds of contacts in seconds. All this, plus these companies have made advertising more closely aligned with users’ needs than it’s ever been before.
If you want less of something, tax it. The worst thing the French government could do right now is disincentivize companies’ efforts to turn French data into profit. Here’s hoping they realize this before implementing this boneheaded tax.
I got choked up watching this Verizon wireless ad. It reminded me that innovation is the most powerful answer to the world’s problems and the single biggest contributor to increases in standards of living.
A more libertarian world helps foster the innovations required to move past problems of scarcity and disease.
It helps us lead longer, fuller, healthier, freer lives. The video shows what innovations can do.
Leave me a comment about the innovations that inspire you most. And, as always, if you haven’t yet, subscribe!
The recent suicide of Aaron Swartz, open-internet activist and the genius behind RSS and Reddit, has left many people questioning the legitimacy of copyright laws and selective, overzealous prosecutions.
Swartz faced up to 35 years in prison if found guilty of violating a handful of laws protecting intellectual property after he was accused of what some have called “liberating” academic papers from JSTOR’s paywall and making them available to the general public.
But I haven’t heard anyone bring up what to me is the unavoidable conclusion Swartz’s potential prosecution leads us to. I believe Swartz’ case demonstrates how all prosecutions meant to make examples out of people are dehumanizing and wrong.
First things first. People are not examples. People are people. Sacrificing 35 years of a person’s life, whether that person was a brilliant contributor to society like Swartz or just an unlucky soul, to try to deter people from breaking a law that is by and large unenforceable is a moral outrage and shouldn’t be tolerated in a civil society.
For any prosecution to serve as an “example” to potential offenders, most offenders must be avoiding prosecution. No one should have to live in a society where they can’t know whether they will be prosecuted for breaking laws. If they cannot assume that they will, the prosecutor needs to do his or her job better, or the laws need to be changed so that they’re able to be uniformly upheld.
What should never happen in the face of a lazy prosecutor or hard-to-enforce laws is that random unlucky people become victims of extraordinarily severe consequences after breaking laws they reasonably assumed wouldn’t be enforced.