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French competition watchdog slaps Google with 250 million euro fine

A lady poses in front of a Google logo at the opening of a new hub in France devoted to the artificial intelligence (AI) sector, at the Google France offices in Paris, France, February 15, 2024

PARIS, March 20 (mod1s) - France's competition authority on Wednesday said it fined Alphabet's Google (GOOGL.O), opens new tab 250 million euros ($271.73 million) for violations relating to EU intellectual property regulations in its interaction with media publishers, citing worries over the company's AI service. 

The watchdog claimed Google's AI-powered chatbot Bard - subsequently renamed under the name Gemini - was trained on material from publishers and news organizations, without alerting them.

Google has committed not to argue the facts as part of settlement processes, the watchdog said, adding the corporation has presented a number of corrective steps to particular inadequacies. 

Google stated it accepted the settlement "because it is time to move on", adding "we want to focus on the larger goal of sustainable approaches to connecting people with quality content and on working constructively with French publishers."

The business argued the sentence was excessive, and said the watchdog had not fully taken into consideration its efforts "in an environment where it’s very hard to set a course because we can’t predict which way the wind will blow next." 

The punishment is tied to a copyright dispute in France over internet material in a lawsuit initiated by complaints from some of the country's top news agencies, including Agence France Presse (AFP).

The disagreement looked to be ended in 2022 when the U.S. tech giant abandoned its appeal against an initial 500 million euro sentence given at the completion of a thorough inquiry carried out by the Autorite de la Concurrence.

But in Wednesday's announcement, the watchdog claimed Google breached the conditions of four out of seven promises established in the settlement, including conducting conversations with publishers in good faith and giving transparent information. 

The commission in particular mentioned Google's AI chatbot Bard, introduced in 2023, which it claimed was trained on data from various media publications and news agencies without the corporation telling them or the regulator. 

"Subsequently, Google linked the use of the content concerned by its artificial intelligence service to the display of protected content", the watchdog stated, adding that in doing so Google hampered the capacity of publishers and news agencies to negotiate reasonable fees. 

The charge comes as many publishers, authors and newsrooms seek to prevent the scraping - or automated collecting of data - by AI services of their online material without their permission of reasonable remuneration. 

The New York Times in 2023 sued Google competitors Microsoft (MSFT.O), opens new tab and OpenAI, the provider of the popular artificial-intelligence platform ChatGPT, accusing them of utilizing millions of the newspaper's stories without authorization to help train chatbots. 

"We - and others - need more clarity on whom we are paying for what", Google stated, opens new page. 

($1 = 0.9200 euros)


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