Google has spent more on lobbying than any other firm in the last two years and it is having a massive effect on Washington. As reported by Wired Google is doing this in a variety of different ways whilst having a major impact on federal policy.
Over the past few years, Google’s approach to influencing federal policy has kicked into overdrive. As calls for regulation on big tech companies have grown so has Google’s attempts at Washington influence.
Some have claimed Google now has a blacklist of conservative news outlets. The company has also been called, amongst other big tech firms, to testify in an antitrust hearing this month. Google adopts a range of tactics to try and influence federal policy and here we will try to unpick just how the company does it.
Google sponsors antitrust research
Indirectly, Google has been part of a group that sponsors research into big tech antitrust. Back in 2012, the company part-funded a research project which criticized the scrutiny of Google in this area.
As the antitrust debate continues to rage an increase in intensity it is worrying to see Google having its hand in the policy decision. However, indirectly this is.
Additionally, Google spent $21 million on lobbying to influence Washington federal policy in 2019. In 2017, it was the largest spending corporate lobbyist out there. Some estimates suggest the number of organisations that receive funding from google is around 350.
This has led to a range of important organizations coming to Google’s defence at key moments over the years. These include academics, think tanks, trade organizations, and advocacy groups. All of which are directly or indirectly funded by the company.
Google supported in news outlets
A number of right-wing news outlets have also leapt to the defence of Google over the years. This is in part due to their extensive lobbying programs.
Op-eds by antitrust and privacy experts tend to appear on sites or cable news outlets where they are sympathetic towards the company. It is not always the case the individuals express these views due to financial incentives caused by funding from Google.
However, in many cases, regulators and the public are not informed about potential conflicts of interest. Take Larry Downes, for example, who is project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy. He co-authored an op-ed in The Washington Post in January about the tech backlash “going askew.”
After 10 days Google donation to the Georgetown centre was made public on its transparency page. Apparently, the company only updates this twice a year.
Plans to break up big tech monopolies being blocked
Elizabeth Warren, has released big plans to break up dominant tech platforms. However, just as she did this, she was met with reliable Google defenders thwarting the debate.
Geoffrey Manne, head of the International Center for Law & Economics, a nonprofit research group that receives money from Google was one of these.
Manne has co-authored a number of papers defending Google. His conflicts of interest have come to light in 2015 but this has not stopped him from continuing to defend the company.
His rebuttal to Warren argued that Google may stop investing in improving its products if it is more regulated. This piece was shared positively but more individuals who are part of Google-backed institutions.
Google stepped up Washington strategy almost a decade ago
Back in 2011 Google decided to put more of a focus on lobbying in Washington. The FTC investigated the company over exploiting its dominance in search. However, failed to bring charges as Google made some voluntary changes.
Google also began courting conservatives in 2013 to mitigate concerns over its close ties to the Obama administration.
As mentioned, Google also invests in donating to think tanks, academics and op-ed amongst other groups. This allows Google to steer the debate on certain issues towards policy positions that benefit the company.
This is not an attempt to change the way the experts think or what they believe in. Instead, they invest in their time to research topics that will be of benefit to the company.
This strategy does not always work and has backfired on the company in the past. Its employees revolted against the company’s sponsorship of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Google then stopped sponsoring the conference in the future. However, it did sponsor eight think tanks at that were present at the conference.
Google’s approach to lobbying and federal policy is a complex one. It lies in subtle social capture which allows it to make seemingly minor impacts. However, when multiplied out and combined together have a wide-ranging impact.