Alphabet-owned Google, Facebook and Microsoft have become the three biggest lobbying spenders in Europe, where they are combating stringent regulations aimed at ensuring free trade practices and curbing the growing influence of Big Tech companies in the bloc, a new report shows.
Google spent €5.8 million ($6.8m) on lobbying in an effort to manipulate the EU’s digital economy policies, said a report from the Brussels-based non-profit research firm Corporate Europe Observatory and Cologne-based Lobbycontrol, which provides information about lobbying and power structures in the EU.
Facebook spent (€5.5m), Microsoft (€5.3m), Apple (€3.5m), Huawei (€3m) and Amazon (€2.7m), said the report, which is based on data submitted to the EU Transparency Register.
“As Big Tech’s market power has grown, so has its political clout. Just as the EU tries to rein in the most problematic aspects of Big Tech … from disinformation, targeted advertising to excessive market power … the digital giants are lobbying hard to shape new regulations,” the report said.
“They are being given disproportionate access to policymakers and their message is amplified by a wide network of think tanks and other third parties,” it added.
Consequently, some companies are facing stricter regulatory scrutiny in Europe and are being pushed to change their monopolistic practices.
In June, Google settled a 2019 antitrust case that alleged the technology company had abused its dominant position in the industry and agreed to pay €220m to French authorities and to change the way its online advertising works.
In February, it was fined $1.3m by French authorities for misleading consumers with its ratings of hotels and tourism destinations.
The latest study found that 612 companies, groups and business associations spent over €97m annually lobbying on the EU’s digital economic policies and institutions. Technology companies are the biggest spenders in EU lobbying, ahead of pharmaceuticals, fossil fuels, finance and chemicals.
“The economic and political power of the digital giants is hefty and they are not going to remain passive in the face of possible new rules that affect the way they conduct their business,” said Tommaso Valletti, former chief economist of the competition directorate at the EU Commission and professor of economics at the Imperial College.
Ten companies are responsible for nearly a third of the total monies spent on tech lobbying. Vodafone, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Amazon, Huawei, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google spend more than €32m in the EU.
Out of all the companies lobbying the EU on digital policy, 20 per cent are based outside of the US. Less than 1 per cent have head offices in China or Hong Kong.
“Chinese firms have so far not invested in EU lobbying quite as heavily as their US counterparts,” the report said.
The extensive lobbying resources of Big Tech reflects the sector’s “increasing dominance in the economy and in society as a whole”.
“It is not just Big Tech’s lobby firepower that is a problem … its business models threaten to undermine people’s rights, fair competition and democratic decision-making in our societies,” the report said.
It added the “alarming power of the digital sector should be a wake-up call” to put in place stricter lobbying regulation both at the EU and member state levels. It suggested implementing new measures to limit the power of corporations that might use their economic clout to shape legislation according to their interests.
“What is most striking is how Big Tech is trying to control the narrative around regulating digital markets and services through its extensive use of think tanks, industry groups, high-level names and consultancies and academic research,” said Agustin Reyna, director for legal and economic affairs at Brussels-based European Consumer Organisation.
“With big bucks and a towering presence, Big Tech is trying hard to prevent the emergence of EU rules that will force them to change the way they operate in Europe.”