The scale of spending by the tech industry to influence the EU’s tech policy agenda was laid out in a report released today by Corporate Europe Observatory and Lobbycontrol – which found hundreds of companies, groups and professional associations disbursing a total of 97 million euros (~ $ 115 million) annually lobbying EU institutions.
The level of spending makes technology the region’s largest lobbying sector – ahead of pharma, fossil fuels, finance and chemicals – according to the two transparency lobbying campaign groups report.
The EU has a series of digital laws in the pipeline, including the Digital Markets Act, which is expected to apply ex ante controls to larger ‘gatekeeper’ platforms in order to promote fair competition in the digital market by prohibiting a series of abusive practices; and the Digital Services Act, which will increase the demands on a part of digital businesses – again with higher requirements for large platforms – to try to align online rules with offline requirements in areas such as illegal content and products.
Tackling online disinformation and threats to democratic processes, for example by updating EU rules for online political advertising and stricter regulation of online advertising targeting more generally, is also being considered by Brussels legislators.
The bloc is also in the process of agreeing on a risk-based framework for artificial intelligence applications.
The reuse of data is another major regulatory focus of the EU.
At the same time, the enforcement of the EU’s existing Data Protection Framework (GDPR) – which is widely seen to have been (for the most part) weakly enforced against tech giants – is another area in which tech giants may be keen to influence regional policy, given that uniformly vigorous enforcement could threaten the oversight-based business models of online advertising giants like Google and Facebook.
Instead, several GDPR complaints against the pair are still undecided on the Irish Data Protection Commission desk.
A small number of tech giants dominating EU lobbying, according to the report, which found that ten companies are responsible for nearly a third of total spending – namely: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Huawei , Amazon, IBM, Intel, Qualcomm and Vodafone – who collectively spend more than € 32 million a year trying to influence EU technology policy.
Google tops the EU big-tech big-spenders lobbying list – spending € 5.8 million a year trying to influence EU institutions, according to the report; followed by Facebook (€ 5.5 million); Microsoft (5.3 M €); Apple (€ 3.5 million); and Huawei (€ 3 million).
Unsurprisingly, US-based tech companies dominate industry lobbying in the EU – with the report revealing that a fifth of companies lobbying the bloc on digital policy are based in the US – well that this suggests that the true proportion is “probably even higher”.
While companies based in China (or Hong Kong) made up only less than one percent of the total, suggesting that Chinese tech companies have so far not been invested in lobbying the EU at one point. level close to the level of their American counterparts.
“The lobbying surrounding a digital service package proposal, the EU’s attempt to harness big tech, provides the perfect example of how huge corporate budgets give them privileged access: senior officials of the Commission held 271 meetings, 75% of which were with industry lobbyists. Google and Facebook led the pack, ”write the two transparency campaign groups.
The report also sheds light on how the tech industry routinely relies on astroturfing to promote privileged policies – with tech companies not only lobbying individually, but also being collectively organized into a network of associations. trade and commerce, which the report also qualifies as “important lobbying players”. .
According to the report, business associations that lobby on behalf of Big Tech alone have a lobbying budget that “far exceeds that of the poorest 75% of companies in the digital industry.”
Such a structure can allow wealthier tech giants to assert their preferred political positions under the guise of broader industry support – also paying out to fund such associations, which in turn gives them leverage. disproportionate on their lobbying activities.
“Big Tech’s lobbying also relies on funding from a large network of third parties, including think tanks, SME and startup associations, and legal and economic consulting firms to get its messages across. These links often go undisclosed, masking potential biases and conflicts of interest, “the couple notes, highlighting 14 think tanks and NGOs they found to have” close ties “to big tech companies. .
“The ethics and practice of these political organizations vary, but some seem to have played a particularly active role in the discussions surrounding the Digital Services package, organizing exclusive or biased debates on behalf of their funders or publishing alarmist reports.” , they continue.
“There’s an opacity issue here: Big tech companies have been poor at reporting their think tank funding – most of the time, only disclosing those ties after being pressured. Even still, this disclosure is not complete. To this, Big Tech adds its funding of associations of SMEs and startups; and the fact that legal and economic experts hired by Big Tech also participate in policy discussions, often without disclosing their clients or corporate ties.
The 14 think tanks and NGOs that the report links to Big Tech donors are: CERRE; CDI, EPC, CEPS, CER, Bruegel, Lisbon Council, CDT, TPN, Friends of Europe, ECIPE, European Youth Forum, German Marshall Fund and the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies.
The biggest-spending tech giants have been contacted for comment on the report. We will update this article with any response.
We have also contacted the European Commission for comment.
The full report – titled The Lobby Network: the big tech influencer network in the EU – can be found here.