In recent weeks the name of Xavier Niel has once more made the headlines in France and around the world. The country’s second biggest internet service provider (ISP) Free, in which he has a controlling interest, sparked huge controversy when out of the blue it excluded adverts from its customers' online pages. Inevitably the battle was seen as one between Niel and the internet giant Google, who were widely and rightly regarded as the real target of the ban; Niel wants Google to pay his firm for the right of the search engine to be present on Free's network. Ultimately Free backed down under pressure from the government but not before a marker had been laid down that the company – and its boss – would not quietly sit by and allow the American search engine dictate to the market. In doing so Free revealed something of the characteristics of its founder; mystery and unpredictability.