I recently started a postdoc in France. I am not French, do not speak any French yet, and I am new to the culture.

It turns out that all national research institutes in France have a rule against using any foreign online service. All research data and communication must always stay on secure government networks and on French territory. In practice, this means that services like Skype, Dropbox, Gmail, etc. are banned, and we are sometimes reminded of this through the institute's mailing lists (in French only). An article mentioning Skype: https://en.wikinews.org/wiki/France_banning_Skype_from_universities

I find that not being able to use such services seriously hinders my work. I cannot talk to collaborators while at work because they all use Skype, and talking from home is not always convenient (time zones, etc.) I cannot have a shared Dropbox folder with them. I cannot use my online backup service (Backblaze). I cannot forward my emails to a central mailbox (Gmail or other) that I will have access to even after I leave this institute. The institute does not provide easy to use replacements for most of these services. The ones that it does provide don't work well, are limited, inconvenient and unreliable.

The attitude of my colleagues spans a broad spectrum, from "I don't give a damn" to scolding me for wanting to use these services. The attitude of our PI is ambiguous (they aren't really a computer person).

Our work does not require stricter security than usual (i.e. we don't collect personal information, medical data, etc.)

How would you deal with this situation? Complying with the rules would be a hindrance for my work, and would waste time. Not complying may be a risk for me. I am looking for advice from other people who also work in France. I would like to have opinions form people who work in other labs, and also some "cultural advice", as "rule" doesn't mean the same thing in all countries. Since this seems to be a national rule, others must have encountered the same problem.

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    For what is worth, I m a french postdoc working in Germany, and my institution here frown upon the use of Skype, Dropbox, etc. as well, so it's not exclusively a french policy.
    – plannapus
    Dec 1, 2016 at 14:05
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    A recent email: "Le transit, le dépôt et l’hébergement de données scientifiques issues de la recherche financée par l'état (français) doivent rester sur des systèmes d'information de confiance au niveau national (INSERM, Universités, EPST, CINES) ou confiées à des hébergeurs nationaux agréés. Des informations scientifiques ou biomédicales ne doivent, en aucun cas, être confiées à des hébergeurs hors du territoire français." The Skype ban is still in effect and this was made clear to me on the first week I arrived. I posted the article which I found in English.
    – Jan
    Dec 1, 2016 at 14:20
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    Commenting on the "cultural advice" aspect of the question, it seems to me that not speaking French is likely to hinder your work a lot more than any technology-related issue, and in particular will lead to communication issues that will cause many administrators and perhaps even some colleagues to treat you like a second class citizen and to be less inclined to help you with your tech difficulties. So, while your frustration is understandable, it might be useful to acknowledge that the deeper cause of your difficulties is not stupid government policies but cultural and language barriers.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 1, 2016 at 16:05
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    ... In view of my comment above, I think I would recommend doing your best to comply with the rules for now, and focusing your energies on addressing the deeper issue I mentioned - learning some French if that is at all possible, or at least learning how to use French software systems, and getting used to French culture and ways of thinking (of course all of those things may not be easy and may require a substantial investment of time and mental energy). And of course enjoying all the amazing things that life in France has to offer.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 1, 2016 at 16:13
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    @DanRomik My reason to suspect its authenticity is that I work in a French research institute and no such rule exists here. The other researchers' behavior described also sounds unbelievable to my ears. But everyone, hey, feel free to believe an unsourced eleven year old news article and a day-old account. I've deleted my older comments, but maybe I'll leave this here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astroturfing
    – user9646
    Dec 1, 2016 at 16:32

2 Answers 2


I can't answer on all the issues, but here are my thoughts on your issues and also to some of the comments.

(I'm actually working in France and as coming from abroad I was surprised at the beginning - but it gets better as you get used to it)

So, indeed, in France there is a formal line on what software is safe to be used. So, instead of Skype, for our group meetings we use another system called Visio, which comes with its own hardware (it's a whole TV set with camera and so).

In the same line, we don't have dropbox and I haven't tried forwarding my emails. I can't comment also on scolding, but I suppose that if someone's not used on working with these softwares, i.e. their work does not depend so much on these things, they haven't actually even thought about having them.

However, there are a few work-arounds and some are more or less practical.

Using your personal computer is always a solution, although you might not get it easily connected to the network. If you can get eduroam access, you can most probably connect your laptop. You might face some resistance in getting connected to the wired network though. (In my case it was solved with eduroam and then i realised that just plugging my laptop to the modem did the trick).

If you don't have a laptop or you don't want to bring it or you can't connect it, for Skype there is http://web.skype.com which is in beta at the moment. I haven't used it for calls (although it seems to be working if my desktop had a mic) but it's generally reliable for messages. I know the university is trying to setup a business Skype, but I don't know when and how this will be available.

As a workaround for the files I want to work from home, I was dropping everything in my google drive (from the web page) which was then synchronising with my computer at home. Later the university started having it's own cloud box system, which made everything easier as there was no problem installing it (it is a university app after all). Searching into your institute account might help find out which options are actually offered.

Finally, for the e-mail issue, I have setup the account also at my home computer and I sync all the email with that. I never had a particular problem with that, as all my emails are now located also on my home computer.

Finally, I don't think the PI can really do anything, as these are state guidelines, so it's beyond their power. However, our lab has a couple common laptops which are used whenever a Skype call is the only way (e.g. when talking with partners abroad).

If I think anything else, I will update my thread. Just to say that it's mostly a matter of habit and you will adapt with a few workarounds.

  • 1
    For file sharing, setting up your own ownCloud on a server located in the lab would be sufficient for sharing files with collaborators.
    – RoboKaren
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:24
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    Actually our university has set up an ownCloud server. So, yes, it's pretty easy.
    – BioGeo
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:39
  • But also our lab has a common server where we share things. But I think the OP meant sharing files with partners outside the lab.
    – BioGeo
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:59
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    You can easily create group folders in ownCloud.
    – RoboKaren
    Dec 1, 2016 at 22:44

First and foremost: their lab, their rules. As long as they is not illegal, immoral, or unethical, the lab or their funders (i.e., the government) can set standards and requirements that you must follow. If you don't like the rules, you can quit. If they catch you willfully breaking their rules, they can easily fire you for cause So I would be hesitant about circumventing their regulations if you like your job.

Second, their rules might have a rationale. Their country, their courts, their laws. European data privacy regulations are notably very strict. American companies not only operate under a looser regime -- but the companies themselves often have fictitious headquarters or locate their servers in regimes that are even looser about data privacy. Dropbox and Google have cooperated with US courts and law enforcement to give up client data. Skype used to use clients as p2p supernodes, potentially opening up backdoors (or at minimum, using resources without permission) - this caused many agencies to forbid its use. Even leaving aside court orders and malware, EU privacy laws are such that having something even as trivial as putting the lab's telephone directory (with personal phone numbers and addresses) on a Dropbox might mean that the data might leave the EU -- and thus violate EU data privacy restrictions. As long as the data stays in France, it's protected by French courts and French laws.

Third, the rules might be designed to support local industry. Just as I am only permitted to "Fly America" when using USA-government funds, it is perfectly reasonable for the French government to encourage the use of their own national technologies. If enough national lab scientists are pissed off enough about not being able to use an American software tool, they might very well come up with a superior French tool. Or so they hope.

Fourth, see rule #1: their lab, their rules. You are new to the country and to the lab. Ask your other lab members what they do. Try to not be the "ugly American" who assumes that their way is always the best way. See which rules are to be strictly obeyed and which everyone largely ignores. Learn the culture and language.

  • 1
    "their lab, their rules" <- Yes, you do have a point, but these are not exactly lab regulations. They are government regulations that apply to all state funded labs and universities. Right after I posted a question I got three extremely upset comments from a French user who said that it's not at all like this in France. Those comments are now deleted (their tone wasn't appropriate), but one thing I learned from them was that in some French institutes some researchers aren't even aware of these regulations ... the commenter actually said that he doesn't believe me and he thinks I'm trolling.
    – Jan
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:19
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    Thanks, I clarified what I mean by "their lab, their rules" by noting that "they" could also mean their funders (i.e., the govt).
    – RoboKaren
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:21
  • @RoboKaren It's true that its their rules and we have to abide with them. Just as a comment, I don't think though that it's an EU thing, because I've been working in other EU countries and there was no problem using any kind of software. As for France, in most of these "issues" there are no french alternatives (and I would be the first to support a local software rathen than a foreign one). As for the privacy, I'm not sure they follow the standards they want to set: they keep using my gmail to send me work e-mails, and they use skype when they can't do otherwise.
    – BioGeo
    Dec 1, 2016 at 19:58
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    @BioGeo I would be the first to support a local software rathen than a foreign one Why? Don't you want to simply use the one that best suits your needs instead?
    – Cape Code
    Dec 1, 2016 at 20:22
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    @NajibIdrissi: True that, in my native language (German) that's called EU-Richtlinie, with Richtlinie being a translation for both directive and (actually, more literally) guideline, hence I picked the wrong word. In any case, my point was to show the underlying ruleset can very well be "an EU thing", even though the concrete implementation differs by country. Dec 2, 2016 at 16:57

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