Google doubled its EU lobbying efforts last year – but the real figure is likely to be much higher than it has declared, as it doesn’t include money spent on ongoing disputes.
The Californian data slurper and hoarder overtook [paywall] Goldman Sachs as the biggest lobbyist in the US last year and is the biggest Federal lobbying spender over the past three years.
Google’s EU Transparency Register filing reveals that it employed the equivalent of 9 full-time lobbyists and spent between €3.5m and €4m on lobbying. That’s more than any other Silicon Valley company, and is bigger than the amounts spent by Apple (full-time equivalent (FTE) 2.2; spending €700-799,000), Amazon (FTE 6; spending €600-699,000), Facebook (FTE 4.2; spending €400-499,000) and eBay (FTE 1.5; €400-499,000) combined. Last year, Google spent around €1.5m [paywall].
Arch-rival Microsoft spent around the same as it did last year, with the equivalent of 7.2 full time lobbyists and a spending of €4-€5m)
Given that the EU figure excludes lobbying on “conciliation or mediation procedures aimed at preventing a dispute from being brought before a judicial or administrative body” (10(a), PDF) Google’s real spending on influencing public policy here will be much higher. Google spent much of the year trying to clinch a last-minute deal with outbound Competition Commissioner Almunia to fend off a Statement of Objections. Money spent on that process doesn’t count in the total declared, nor does staff time.
And the figure for directly employed staff engaged in lobbying by Google merely hints at its influence.
The Washington Post found that Google had funded organisations, think tanks and academics, including the EFF and Public Knowledge. (Both were also recipients of back-room “cy pres” deals that distribute class-action privacy settlements to the groups themselves, rather than affected citizens.)
The Citizen.org project tracking Google’s political spending can be found here. In areas where Google doesn’t spend the cash directly, it can rely on others to help. Foundations including George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation align closely to Silicon Valley’s view on IP policy. The OSI funds a number of groups who style themselves as "civil society" or "human rights" (sic) outfits, including EDRI.
Google declared memberships of a number of groups including VON Europe, EuroISPA, the European Digital Media Association, the European Policy Centre, the European Center (sic) for International Political Economy and Open Forum Europe, among others. It’s also thrown cash at two think tanks – the Bruegel Centre and the Lisbon Council – who have taken a strongly pro-Google position on key IP issues. Google’s favourite anti-trust spokesperson, Mario Marinello, is at Bruegel.
It's called "soft power" [paywall].
Does all this cash have an effect? Readers can judge for themselves. When Google funnelled money to Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, it “specifically designated [the funding] not be used for CIS’s privacy work”. The decision was described as “a budgeting matter” by the centre’s head, former EFF attorney Jennifer Granick. As for the EFF itself, in one year, Google cy pres cash amounted to half of the group’s income alone. Last year, the EFF gave scores out to technology companies for privacy in a report marked “Who Has Your Back”, and Google scored 6 out of 6.
Fancy that. ®