Pap Ndiaye, Minister of National Educationrecently confirmed that free versions of Office and Google Workspace should not be used in schools due to concerns about privacy rules, competition, and data sovereignty.
Paid versions of these cloud services could have been an option, but they have already been banned due to data safety concerns.
In a reply to Philippe Latombe, Member of the National Assembly of FranceNdiaye said: “The publisher Microsoft has a global policy for education consisting of offering the basic version of its online collaborative suite free of charge.
“Article L. 2 of the Public Procurement Code provides that public procurement contracts are contracts entered into for consideration to meet the needs of the public entity in terms of works, supplies or services.
“Free service offers are therefore, in principle, excluded from the scope of public procurement.”
Office 365 and Google Workspace are prominent examples of free offerings that will not be allowed for use in French schools.
Any hopes of Microsoft and Google getting their cloud services considered based on their premium offerings have been dashed by the French authorities’ view of cloud services, acting in Europe but storing data in the US, as non-compliant with EU data regulations.
In his response, Ndiaye also referenced “Schrems II”, a 2020 ruling from the European Court of Justice which invalidated the US-EU Privacy Shield Agreement due to ‘inadequate protections’.
Latombe’s letter to Ndiaye summarized the issues at hand: “This free offer amounts to the ultimate form of dumping and unfair competition. Moreover, it seems that no call for tenders has been made.
“He asked whether he could indicate what he intended to do about such commercial practices which, while they may seem attractive to the consumer, strongly penalize other economic actors and pose a serious problem of sovereignty because of the location of personal data on an American cloud and the extraterritoriality of American law, and give the impression to the many teachers who are hostile to it that the administration has been sold to Microsoft.”
The news website, The Register, found that in October 2021, the Ministry of Education advised academies not to deploy either Office 365 or Google Workspace.
This recommendation was based on a letter from the director of DINUM, an interministerial digital department, which warned government agencies against using Office 365 as it conflicted with the country’s “Cloud at the Center” initiative.
In 2019, German data protection authorities banned Microsoft Office 365 in schools in the state of Hessen.
In July this year, Microsoft announced Microsoft Cloud for Sovereignty, which Corey Sanders, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Cloud for Industry and Global Expansion Teamdescribes as “a new solution that will enable public sector customers to build and digitally transform workloads in the Microsoft Cloud while meeting their compliance, security and policy requirements”.
The Register reported that Microsoft also has plans to deploy an EU Data Boundary so EU customer data can be processed according to data regulations by the end of this year.
Last year, Google set out a similar goal of meeting EU data protection requirements by creating a “Sovereign Cloud” offering. According to Adaire Fox-Martin, Vice President, EMEA, Google Cloud“Customers in other markets [as well as Germany] across Europe will be able to use these trusted partner offerings or use Google Cloud’s controls to exercise autonomous control over data access and use; exercise choice over the infrastructure that is used to process that data; and avoid cloud vendor lock-in.”
In October 2022, President Biden signed an executive order on “Enhancing Safeguards for United States Signals Intelligence Activities” putting into motion its commitments to the EU-US Data Privacy Framework announced in March.
The executive order will add further safeguards, mandate handling requirements for personal information, require US Intelligence Community elements to update and review their policies and procedures, and more.