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The Real Influencers: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have spent $582 million lobbying Congress since 2005

But how are they spending that money? What Issues matter to the Big Tech Lobby?

Since 2005, the big 5 tech companies have spent over half a billion dollars ($582 million) lobbying Congress. Last year alone, they spent $81.4 million, with Google the largest contributor at $26.1 million.

But how are they spending all that money?

vpnMentor recently analysed all of the lobbying reports submitted by the big 5 tech firms to find out.

Here's what we discovered.

Banner with tech giants namesLobbying charts

Privacy, Health Data and Government Surveillance

The most frequently occurring word across all reports submitted by the big 5 is ‘privacy’, mentioned 3,240 times across 1,323 reports (out of the 2,753 submitted since 2005). The next most mentioned word across all of their lobbying reports is ‘tax’ with 2,463 mentions in 1,123 reports. The next 3 words in order are ‘online’ ‘data’ and ‘security’.

Common lobbying words

Privacy is the number one issue for Facebook and Google, mentioned in 61% and 64% of their submissions respectively. For Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, however, tax is the number one issue, featuring in 59%, 76% and 54% of their submissions.

Lobby report key issues

The lobbying reports from the big 5 mentioning privacy last year totalled $66.4 million, including $16.6 million from Google, $15.1 million from Amazon and $13 million from Facebook.

Value of reports mentioning privacy

Google specifically highlights location privacy in 8 of its reports. And health data has become an important issue for Apple and Google. With the advent of wearable tech, both companies started lobbying laws related to the usage of consumer health data in 2014, and it’s listed in 10% of Apple’s reports.

Banner with tech giants namesHealth dataAs Facebook frequently find themselves subject to data requests from the NSA, they’re keen to influence relevant laws, with 10% of the company’s lobbying reports mentioning ‘Government surveillance’.

Banner with tech giants namesGovernment surveillance

Data Breaches and Cyber-Security

Following a couple of high profile data breaches at Facebook, the word ‘breach’ features in 19% of the company’s lobbying submissions, compared with only 11% of Amazon’s, the company with the next highest proportion of reports mentioning the issue.

Banner with tech giants namesBreach

Similarly, data security is mentioned in over 40% of Facebook’s submissions to Congress, whereas the same topic only appears in 14% of Google’s reports and less than 10% of those from Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.

Banner with tech giants namesData security

Cyber-security is an important issue for all, making up more than 30% of Facebook, Google and Microsoft’s submissions and just over 20% of Amazon and Apple’s.

Banner with tech giants namesCybersecurity

Tax, Competition and Barriers to Trade

Tax appears in 76% of Apple’s lobbying reports (180 of 236 reports). Similarly high on their priority list, tax is included in 59% and 54% of Amazon and Microsoft’s reports. This is the only issue to feature in more than 50% of the reports for each of these 3 companies. Considerably lower on the agenda for Facebook and Google, tax is mentioned in 32% and 17% of their reports respectively. For those 2 companies, the only issue that appears on more than half of their reports is privacy (at 61% and 64% respectively).

Banner with tech giants namesTax

Due to the size of these large tech companies, they are occasionally subject to accusations that they represent monopolies in their respective markets. And politicians have at times called for the organisations to be broken up. In light of this, it’s understandable they would be keen to weigh in on competition laws. Google seem the most concerned with 47% of their reports (364 out of 782) making reference to competition as a key issue. Microsoft are next in line on the competition battleground, with 24% of their reports (270 out of 1105) also listing competition.

Banner with tech giants namesCompetition

Apple detail laws related to competition in 17% of their submissions. But perhaps more tellingly, it’s the only organisation to detail ‘technical barriers to trade’ in their lobbying reports, doing so in 21% of their submissions. This is likely due to the fact that the iOS App Store is seen as a closed ecosystem, not allowing users to purchase apps via third party platforms, an advantage the company are keen to protect.

Banner with tech giants namesTechnical barriers to trade

Patents and Copyright

Apple and Facebook appear to be the most concerned of the big 5 over patent protection, with 45% and 39% of their lobbying reports mentioning the issue. Considerably lower on the agenda for the other 3, it features in 23%, 21% and 20% of Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook’s submissions respectively.

Banner with tech giants namesPatent

Copyright laws feature in 40% of Google’s reports, while Apple is next closest, detailing the issue in 25% of its reports.

Banner with tech giants namesCopyright

Broader Social Issues:

Freedom of Expression, Net Neutrality and Immigration

The influence of these large companies expands beyond merely protecting their profitability and the right to use consumer data.

Both Facebook and Google have been criticised as their platforms can amplify fake news and hate speech. As a potential consequence of this, they are the only two of the big 5 tech firms mentioning laws related to freedom of expression in their lobbying efforts. 24% of Facebook’s reports and 10% of Google’s list ‘freedom of expression’ as an issue of interest.

Banner with tech giants namesFreedom of expression

Amazon appeared to be more concerned with net neutrality relative to the other 4, detailing the issue in 19% of their reports, while it was listed in less than 10% of reports from the other 4, Facebook being the highest of those at 9%.

Banner with tech giants namesNet neutrality

Facebook and Microsoft seem most concerned with ensuring the influx of highly-skilled migrants. Immigration featured in 36% and 35% of their reports, and Google, Amazon and Apple mentioned immigration in 17%, 11% and 7% of their submissions, respectively.

Banner with tech giants namesImmigration

Big Issues for the Future:

Drones, A.I and Driverless Cars

While privacy might be the number one issue today, the future legal battlegrounds will be the roads (with driverless cars) airspace (for drones) and the rise of the machines (with the growth of artificial intelligence).

The earliest mention of artificial intelligence in lobbying from the big 5 came in 2016, with Microsoft the first to weigh in. Amazon joined them in 2017, then Google in 2018. Last year, issues related to the development of A.I were mentioned in lobbying reports that totalled $10m from Microsoft and $14.3m from Amazon.

Banner with tech giants namesArtificial Intelligence

Google, Amazon and Apple have all been lobbying the House of Representatives over laws related to autonomous vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles, i.e. drones. Google were the first to lobby autonomous vehicles, detailing them in reports in 2012, whereas Amazon and Apple only recently sought to influence such legislation in 2017.

Banner with tech giants namesAutonomous vehicle

Drones are clearly of most interest to Amazon. The first mention of unmanned aerial vehicles appeared in a solitary lobbying report from the company in 2013. Although the issue still only appears in a small proportion of their reports (4 reports from Amazon in 2018, compared with 5 from Google and only 1 from Apple in the same year), the value of those reports is significantly higher than its nearest competitors in this legislative field. Those 4 reports in 2018 had a an associated price tag of $14.2m compared with $200,000 from Google and $100,000 from Apple.

Banner with tech giants namesUnmanned aerial vehicles

Although each lobbying report can (and often does) have multiple issues listed under the same dollar value, the above still gives some indication of the relative importance of drone laws to the different companies.

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have become an integral part of our lives -  from smartphones to social media, search, online video, shopping, apps, movies, music, TV and more, not to mention all the personal data they gather through the process.

And they’re not only influencing our work, entertainment and social lives, they’re also working in the background, using their financial wealth and political power to influence the laws of the land.

Privacy and data security are two of the hottest political issues today. And whatever the big technological issues of the future - whether it’s health data, location data, unmanned vehicles, freedom of expression, artificial intelligence or more - you can be sure these companies will be wielding their influence to shape the rules for all.

You can read the full report here.

Picture Credits:

Jeff Bezos by Steve Jurvetson used under CC BY 2.0 /Cropped and/or resized and properties adjusted
Larry Page by Bob Lee used under license CC BY 2.0 /Cropped and/or resized and properties adjusted
Mark Zuckerberg by TechCrunch used under CC BY 2.0 /Cropped and/or resized and properties adjusted
Bill Gates by Kuhlmann /MSC used under CC BY 3.0 DE /Cropped and/or resized and properties adjusted
US Capitol Building by Martin Falbisoner (1978–) used under CC BY-SA 3.0 /Cropped and/or resized and properties adjusted

About the Author

Gaya Polat is vpnMentor's site manager, and a technology researcher.

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