Big Tech companies spend €97 million each year trying to influence EU institutions, a study by NGOs Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) and LobbyControl has revealed.
The investigating organisations, whose mission is to make institutional decision-making processes more transparent, have found that this enormous sum spent by large digital companies as leverage for favourable policies surpasses the EU lobbying budgets of the pharmaceutical sector, the automobile industry, and the finance sector.
Among the 612 companies, corporations, and interest groups surveyed in the study, ten contribute one-third (€32 million) of the total amount spent: Vodafone, Qualcomm, Intel, IBM, Amazon, Huawei, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook et Google. And although one-fifth of lobbyists have their head office in the US, European institutions are obvious targets for lobbying with representatives of Google and Facebook having the most meetings with the European Commission.
“This lobbying has one aim: to oppose strict rules that would affect the commercial model of Big Tech and its profits,” researcher Margarida Silva (CEO) explained. The European Commission has been outspoken about its intent to rein in the power of Google, Amazon, and Cie, Max Bank – spokesperson of LobbyControl – stated. “Through lobbying, the digital industry focuses its efforts on diluting legislation,” he warned.
“From a democratic standpoint, these vast lobbying budgets are worrying and unhealthy,” Silva added. “Legislation introduced by the European institutions is supposed to improve the internet for citizens, SMEs and communities. For legislation to achieve its democratic goals, it is vital that discussions with citizens can be carried out unimpeded by external influence, allowing for independent votes without commercial lobbies deciding laws to their benefit rather than that of society.”
Already a huge controlling force in societies across the world, Big Tech companies have consolidated their power during the pandemic, with profits soaring as online commerce and business activity migrates from the physical space to the digital. Big Tech – a name applied to the largest technology companies that typically operate globally – is present in almost every aspect of modern life, whether public or private. As the developed world moves towards ever-more connected lifestyles, both at work and at home, their presence will become almost inescapable.
This poses a considerable threat to the health of SMEs, democracy, and the natural environment and raises questions about internet monopolies, censorship, and sustainable financing models. Big Tech has a reputation for exploiting tax regulations, employing armies of financial advisors to assist them in paying as little tax as possible and relies on lobbies to stymie institutional efforts to curb their tax evasion.