Google ramps up lobbying, Facebook outspends peers in third quarter

Sundar Pichai of Google testifies before the House Judiciary Committee as seen via YouTube on a laptop in Washington, DC on July 29, 2020.

Carolyn Van Houten | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Google ramped up lobbying spend in the third quarter and Facebook outspent its Big Tech peers as regulators and lawmakers prepared to make public their findings of alleged antitrust violations.

Google spent more than $1.9 million in lobbying in the third quarter of this year, a 14.2% increase from the prior quarter. Facebook spent $4.9 million, a 1.5% increase from the previous quarter.

In the past few months, Google has faced major exposure in Washington as a result of antitrust investigations into its business. On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed suit against Google, alleging it had maintained an unlawful monopoly of its search business through exclusionary contracts that aimed to cut off competitors from distribution.

In July, CEO Sundar Pichai testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust alongside CEOs from Amazon, Apple and Facebook. The subcommittee later found that each holds monopoly power and made recommendations to reform antitrust laws and even go as far as breaking up the companies, something Congress does not have the power alone to do.

Each of the companies that faced the subcommittee increased their lobbying spend in the quarter, though Google picked up to the greatest degree.

Here’s the breakdown of Big Tech lobbying spend in the third quarter: 

  • Facebook: $4.9 million, up 1.5% from last quarter
  • Amazon: $4.4 million, up 0.7%
  • Google: $1.9 million, up 14.2% 
  • Microsoft: $1.9 million, down 35.4%
  • Apple: $1.6 million, up 5.4%

Combined lobbying spend for the five tech giants fell just 0.04% to $14.7 million.

Microsoft was the only tech giant to decrease its spending in the quarter. It’s also the only one that’s managed to avoid much of the tech scrutiny its peers have faced from regulators in recent years.

Each company lobbied on a variety of issues. Public lobbying filings only show the topics they pursued, not which side they fall on them.

All five companies lobbied on a variety of competition issues, and issues related to consumer privacy or federal privacy legislation. Most of the companies besides Google lobbied on issues related to the Covid-19 response.

Most of the companies except for Amazon lobbied on the EARN IT Act, a bipartisan bill seeking to tie tech’s legal shield (Section 230) to certain standards to prevent child sexual exploitation. Tech industry groups have criticized the bill as a way to undermine encryption standards, though its most controversial aspects have been watered down through amendments.

Amazon, Facebook and Google lobbied on encryption-related issues.

An Amazon spokesperson said in a statement, “Amazon provides a wide range of products and services for our customers, and we’re always looking for ways to innovate on their behalf. Our Washington, D.C. team is focused on ensuring we are advocating on issues that are important to our customers, our employees and policymakers.”

Other companies named in this article either did not respond or did not provide comment.

Other tech companies also stepped up their spending in the third quarter. ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the social media app TikTok, spent 46% more this quarter compared to last at $730,000. The company has been engaged in a legal battle with the Trump administration over its attempts to ban TikTok over national security concerns. It’s lobbied on a congressional bill to ban the app from government devices.

Uber’s spend was down about 5% this quarter at $540,000, but Lyft’s grew nearly 38% to $730,000. Both have been engaged in a lawsuit from the California attorney general over their classification of drivers as employees. They each lobbied the federal government on labor issues related to independent contractors or gig workers, among other issues.

“Lyft believes it is important to engage in the political system in order to advocate on the issues that reflect our values and that impact both our riders and our drivers,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement.

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