French tax authorities have collected around €10 million in tax after an experiment trialling the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to find undeclared swimming pools uncovered over 20,000 hidden pools in nine of the country’s 96 departments (sub-regions).

The windfall arises from the higher taxes properties with pools are subject to, with Le Parisien reporting that an average 30 sqm pool is taxed at €200 a year. French law obliges owners of pools to declare them in order to accurately calculate property taxes.

The trial, which was conducted in October 2021, used software developed by Google and French consulting firm Capgemini to spot pools on aerial images of Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, Ardèche, Rhône, Haute -Savoie, Vendée, Maine-et-Loire and Morbihan.

Tax officials now say the software could be rolled out nationwide, and its use extended to the locating of undeclared home extensions like patios, gazebos and verandas, which are also factored into the calculate of the property tax due on a site.

Data website Statista indicates that there were more than 3.2 million private swimming pools in France in 2020, according to the BBC – a figure that is nowadays considered conservative, as COVID-related lockdowns and the shift to work-from-home drove a surge in pool installations.

Speaking to Le Parisien, deputy director general of public finances Antoine Magnant said: “We are particularly targeting house extensions like verandas. But we have to be sure that the software can find buildings with a large footprint and not the dog kennel or the children’s playhouse.”

That certainty has not yet been established, with the tax authorities technical team admitting that they are not yet able to distinguish between rectangular shapes, such as pools, tents, terraces and even tarpaulin laid out on the ground. Efforts are underway to improve the technology, they said.

France is currently engaged in a debate on the use of water, prompted by its worst-ever recorded drought. Over 100 French municipalities are running short of drinking water, while crop irrigation has been banned in some regions.

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