First comes the money, then the power. Uncovering Big Tech’s network of hidden influence.

© Grist

Since consolidating their monopolistic position in the digital industries, Big Tech has turned its attention to strengthening its political influence. In the last couple of years, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google and most recently Facebook –who joined these last four in the $1 trillion club in terms of market valuation in 2016– have gradually increased their lobbying spending, both at home and abroad (Bartlett, 2018). Unsurprisingly, this has raised a number of questions among regulators who are concerned about these corporations’ role in the undermining of democratic processes and their business model based on the exploitation of personal data.

The reputation blows caused by successive scandals, namely the Cambridge Analytica revelations, have seen tech companies significantly increase their lobbying efforts in order to conserve their questionable business model based on mining behavioural data from its users. In response to politicians’ intentions to implement stricter policies on digital markets, Big Tech has managed to reshape the regulation narrative. Their argument is that regulation inhibits innovation (Corporate Europe Observatory, 2021). In other words, Big Tech is essentially demanding that lawmakers favour corporate interests over their users’ right to privacy. Another argument straight from the Big Tech lobbying playbook is to narrow the question of regulation down to geopolitics. They claim that if politicians were to impose regulations, the West would inevitably fall behind the rest of the world in the inexorable tech race.

© EU Transparency Register

In addition to reframing the regulation narrative, Big Tech has also been accused of covert lobbying. Thanks to Big Tech’s extremely deep pockets, these companies have managed to develop close ties with a number of think tanks (Corporate Europe Observatory, 2019). The issue worrying politicians on both sides of the Atlantic is that these organisations, responsible for conducting research, sometimes do not disclose their association with Big Tech corporations (Ibid). Consequently, Big Tech can give the impression that the studies were independently conducted and therefore make it easier to covertly influence political decisions regarding regulation.

There’s no obvious solution to the dilemma of how to keep their growing power in check but there are some policy suggestions that would go a long way in doing so. Controlling mergers would be a big step in preventing these powerful monopolies from becoming even bigger. Mergers such as Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp, allowing Facebook to access users’ contacts, or Google buying out Fitbit, expanding its opportunities for obtaining even more data, were unimpeded under current legislation. More policy efforts should also go towards addressing the surveillance-based advertising model which strips users of their privacy (Zubbof, 2019).

© Kaspersky Daily

As both the United States and the European Union continue to debate policies that could restrict the power of Big Tech, we can expect big decisions regarding regulation of digital monopolies to be made in the coming years. Considering the clear conflict of interest between these tech corporations and their users, exploited for profit, transparency in the decision-making process is the least we expect.

REFERENCES

Bartlett, J. (2018). The People vs Tech: How the Internet is killing democracy (and how we save it). London: Ebury Press.

Corporate Europe Observatory (2021). The Lobby Network: Big Tech’s Web of Influence in the EU. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3G0KIE1 [accessed 7 January 2022]

Corporate Europe Observatory (2019). Big Tech Lobbying: Google, Amazon & Friends and their hidden influence. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3G0KIE1 [accessed 7 January 2022]

Zubbof, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. London: Profile Books.

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Discussing the most current issues facing technology and democracy in bestselling author Jamie Bartlett’s ‘The People vs Tech’ (2018)

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Discussing the most current issues facing technology and democracy in bestselling author Jamie Bartlett’s ‘The People vs Tech’ (2018)

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