Thursday, 09 May 2019 11:46

Big five US tech firms spent US$582m to lobby govt over 14 years

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Big five US tech firms spent US$582m to lobby govt over 14 years Pixabay

The big five technology firms in the US — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — spent about US$582 million lobbying the US Congress on various issues between 2005 and 2018, the VPN provider vpnMentor says, basing its claims on analysis of available data.

It found that in 2018, privacy was the top issue for both Google and Facebook, with 61% of Facebook's lobbying efforts mentioning it and Google being even more, with 64% of its efforts being about privacy.

Next to this, data security was high on Facebook's list of concerns with 43% of its submissions being on this subject. Google was more concerned with competition, focusing 47% of its submissions on this aspect.

Overall, privacy was mentioned in submissions costing US$73.5 million from the five big tech firms in 2018, with Facebook accounting for US$13.8 million.

The five companies were also greatly concerned about tax laws, with this being the top priority for Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, with 59%, 76% and 54% of their submissions respectively focused on such legislation. Tax was the second-most mentioned word in submissions from the five firms and was mentioned in submissions that cost US$66.4 million to lodge in 2018.

lobbying

Another preoccupation for Facebook was curbing data requests from the NSA, with 10% of the social media company's lobbying reports mentioning data surveillance. Facebook started lobbying about this issue in 2013, as did Microsoft; coincidentally, this is the year when whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked explosive reports about NSA surveillance to a number of big newspapers in different countries.

Last year, Facebook mentioned "government surveillance" in lobbying reports that cost US$12.6 million while Microsoft (US$9.9 million) and Google (US$200,000) were next.

Facebook was also concerned about data breach legislation, mentioning the words in 19% of its lobbying efforts. It began lobbying for laws relating to breaches in 2011 when reports worth US$800,000 mentioned the subject. By 2018, that figure had risen to US$12.6 million.

The research found that Google was obsessed with competition law, with 47% of its submissions based around this. In 2018, reports from the five companies which cost US$68.6 million to produce mentioned competition and Google's share was US$28 million.

Apple was the lone company to lobby for preserving "technical barriers to trade," vpnMentor found. The company spent US$8.3 million in 2018 lobbying on this subject.

Ariel Hochstadt, co-founder of vpnMentor and a cyber security expert, said of the research: “A lot of people tend to think that the way things are at the moment is just a natural progression of the Internet and that there’s nothing to do about it.

"But our report shows that this is just not true. Big tech companies such as Facebook and Google spend millions to convince us and lawmakers that it’s ok for them to use and exploit our data, or that this is just an inevitable conclusion of our online activity."

Graphic: courtesy vpnMentor

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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