Turkey – Google Soap Opera: Taxes + Freedom of Expression
When the strained relationship between Google + the Turkish government has been discussed in the Western press, most of the times it is framed as ‘Google tries to bring open + free Internet to Turkey; Turkish government represses it’.
See: all discussions of Turkish government blocking access to YouTube, Blogger, and other Google products sporadically throughout the past 6 years.
But this narrative misses a few points. Including, not least of which, is Taxes. Turkey and Google have been sparring not only about the right to freedom of expression, and what crosses the line into unacceptable content. They have been also been fighting over money.
Namely, the Turkish government says that Google owes it massive amounts of back-taxes, because Google set up a subsidiary in Istanbul, used it to find local advertisers to use Google Ad services, and did business in Turkey — all the while paying absolutely no taxes.
Google says ‘we comply with all tax laws of all countries in which we have a presence’, and ergo, ‘we do not owe taxes to Turkey’. They point back to their presence in Ireland as the only real place where they are ‘doing business’, since that’s the headquarters where their ad-businesses are based out of for Europe (Turkey’s region).
This is not so clear cut, and it was raised a few years ago without any apparent resolution.
But there’s another interesting question — which is really the important issue for Google + for the Turkish government:
(a) the ability of the government to control what content is available to the people in its country (Google: “almost none at all, foreign governments can’t limit the world’s right to fully access Google products!”; Turkey: “we want a say, and according to our laws, we have a right to it”)
(b) the obligation of tech companies like Google to pay taxes in the different jurisdictions where effectively they are doing business (Google: “we do not have to pay you any taxes, since we’ve set it up very carefully to only be responsible for taxation under Ireland”; Turkey: “no, look at our laws, you’ve set up a business in our country + are doing business in our country, which means under our laws, you owe us money”
Even though most of the times Google’s presence abroad is framed in the discussion of “Google the Internet Freedom Crusader, Battling RepressiveGovernments of the World”, this discourse should be woven in with the underdiscussed “Google Hates Taxes and Does All It Can to Avoid Paying Them”