July 23, 2021

Staring Down Antitrust Actions, Big Tech’s ‘Big Four’ Pours $13.4M into Q2 Lobbying

Logos of the Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon applications are displayed on the screen of an Apple iPhone. Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images.
Bergen Smith and Frank Bass

Facing an increasingly hostile Congress and a deeply suspicious user base, four of the world’s largest tech companies – Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook – spent almost $13.4 million attempting to shape federal policy during the second quarter of 2021, according to a Decode Democracy analysis of lobbying records.

The millions spent on influence-peddling were roughly in line with amounts spent by the four companies over the last three-and-a-half years. Since 2018, the cumulative amounts spent by the four companies have ranged from $12.38 million during the second quarter of 2020 to $14.65 million during the second quarter of 2018.

Amazon was the highest-spending tech giant during the three months from April through June. The Seattle-based company has come under fire for poor working conditions in its mammoth warehouses during a global pandemic, anti-competitive online practices, and paying for its founder to fly briefly into space aboard a phallus-shaped rocket. The company spent $4.86 million on influence peddling during the quarter, the most it’s spent on lobbying during a single quarter in the last three years.

It was trailed slightly by Facebook, which dropped $4.77 million on lobbying. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based tech giant has been criticized most recently for not doing enough to halt the spread of disinformation about vaccines to prevent COVID. The company was sued by the FTC and 46 states that sought to break it up, arguing its purchase of onetime competitors Instagram and WhatsApp was illegal. Although the case was dismissed by a judge last month, an appeal is being considered.

Google, the Mountain View, Calif.-based advertiser, spent $2.09 million attempting to shape federal policy during the quarter. The company faces its own set of issues, with 36 states and the District of Columbia suing it earlier this month for allegedly stifling competition in its Android app store. President Biden this week also nominated a longtime critic of Google to head up the Justice Department’s antitrust division.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple spent $1.64 million on lobbying during the three-month period, according to lobbying records. While the manufacturer of the popular iPhone has kept a lower antitrust profile than the other tech companies, the Justice Department’s antitrust division has been investigating its business practices.

The figures may help explain why the companies have been condemned roundly by federal lawmakers, but prospects for concrete action are still uncertain. The House Judiciary Committee last month approved a series of measures that included:

  • Ending Platforms Monopolies Act, introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., which would give the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission the ability to sue large platforms and break them up;

  • Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, introduced by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., which would bar tech companies from becoming monopolies by acquiring competitors;

  • ACCESS Act, introduced by Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Penn., which would require platforms to make it easy for users to move their data from one platform to another; and

  • American Choice and Innovation Online Act, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., which would penalize dominant platforms that give special advantages to their own products.

A survey released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center underscored the  growing unease among the American public about the power of big tech companies. The survey found 56 percent of U.S. adults think major technology companies should be regulated more, and 68 percent said they think the tech giants have too much power and influence in the economy.

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