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How France is using aerial photos and artificial intelligence to find hidden pools and collect more taxes

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The discovery of thousands of hidden private pools in France has given an unexpected boost to the European country’s tax revenue.

Thanks to an experiment using artificial intelligence (AI), the French tax authorities discovered more than 20,000 hidden pools.

According to French media, the find has raised some 10 million euros ($10 million) in revenue.

Having swimming pools in France can force their owners to pay a higher property tax because they increase the value of the property, which is why they must be declared to the treasury, according to French law.

The 20,000 pools were detected during a test in October 2021 using software developed by Google and the French consulting firm Capgemini with aerial images from nine regions of the country.

The regions of Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, Ardèche, Rhône, Haute-Savoie, Vendée, Maine-et-Loire and Morbihan were part of the trial, but tax officials say it can now be rolled out worldwide. country.

In 2020 there were already more than 3.2 million private pools in France, according to figures from the Federation of Swimming Pool Professionals, and sales were already booming before the covid pandemic.

But with the advent of the coronavirus there was a further increase in pool facilities as more and more employees worked from home.

According to the newspaper Le Parisien, for an average swimming pool of 30 square meters, you must pay about 200 euros (US$200) to the tax authorities each year.

Failures

The General Directorate of Public Finances (DGFiP) of France is specifically using algorithms that allow it to extract from aerial shots the outlines of swimming pools and structures to check if they have the taxes that, according to the law, they should have.

Failing that, the owner of the property is invited to regularize his situation and pay what he owes to the treasury.

Tax authorities say the software could also be used in the future to find undeclared extensions to houses, patios or garden gazebos, which also cause property tax to rise.

“We particularly target house extensions, such as terraces,” Antoine Magnant, deputy director of the DGFiP, told Le Parisien.

“We have to be sure that the software will be able to find buildings with large surfaces and not the doghouse or a children’s playhouse,” he added.

But French media have reported that, at the moment, Google and Capgemini software set up to identify swimming pools is failing to find home extensions.

“How can you be sure that a black rectangular spot, seen from the sky, is an enlargement and not a tarpaulin placed on the ground, a tent or even a terrace?” asks Le Parisien.

Ban new pools?

The heavy hand of the French government against undeclared swimming pools comes after Julien Bayou, general secretary of the environmental party Europa Ecology The Greens and councilor for the Île-de-France region, did not rule out the ban on building new private swimming pools.

The swimming pool in the grounds of Joan Collins' luxurious villa in the hills above San Tropez.
The swimming pool in the grounds of Joan Collins’ luxurious villa in the hills above San Tropez.

Speaking to BFMTV, Bayou said France needs a “different relationship with water” and that a ban would be a “last resort.”

“The challenge is not to ban swimming pools, it is to guarantee our vital water needs,” he added.

His comments take on even more relevance at a time when France is going through the worst drought on record, in which more than 100 municipalities have been left without drinking water.

In July, France had just 9.7mm of rain, making it the driest month since March 1961, according to the national weather service Meteo-France.

The crisis is so serious that irrigation has been banned in the northwest and southeast of the country in order to try to conserve water.

France is the second country with the most swimming pools per capita in the world, only behind the United States, and the market is booming.

In 2021 alone, the French built nearly 244,000 swimming pools, according to the Federation of Swimming Pool Professionals.

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