how Big Tech derailed the attempt to limit its power

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The spending bill was presented in the US Congress on Tuesday. However, two proposals aimed at limiting Gafam’s power disappeared from the final version. What had been called the most ambitious effort to regulate the activities of tech giants in decades in the United States was the result of an unprecedented lobbying effort.

The end of the year claps on a landslide victory for Gafam in the USA. The massive 2023 spending bill presented to Congress on Tuesday, December 20, was an opportunity to prove the lobbying firepower of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft.

This text, which allows for the incurring of $1.7 trillion in public spending next year, has caused a lot of ink to flow about what it contains. In particular, he mentions a ban on downloading TikTok for all government agents, an envelope of an additional $44.9 billion to help Ukraine, measures to make it harder to challenge election results with violence, or even additional funds to cope with the increase in natural disasters associated with global warming.

Spent over $100 million

But what isn’t there is just as revealing. And one of the biggest absentees from this “omnibus” bill (which covers topics that are often unrelated) is an early Christmas present for American Big Tech. Two bills that, according to the Bloomberg channel, represent “the biggest legislative effort in 30 years” to check the power of the Silicon Valley giants have disappeared.

Although these texts were officially supported by the White House and leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, they planned to prevent Gafam from promoting its own services on its website – such as Google highlighting Gmail when searching for messaging services – and force Google or Apple to open their iPhone and Android to application stores other than their own.

Again this summer, it appeared that these bills had every chance of being passed in Congress, despite already significant lobbying, the Wall Street Journal emphasizes. But the increased pressure – including from Tim Cook or Sundar Pinchai (CEO of Apple and Google) himself – finally made it possible for Big Tech to win this battle of epic proportions, notes the Washington Post.

For the story of this first-rate legislative funeral is one of an unprecedented effort by some of the world’s most powerful corporations to, for once, coordinate rather than shoot each other in the leg to defeat “legislation that struck them as existential threats ,” notes Bloomberg.

In one year, these giants have spent more than 100 million dollars on targeted advertising, in the promotion of oriented academic work or in various and varied gifts to achieve their goals, the Wall Street Journal writes in detail.

sons of ads

In particular, a lightning offensive was carried out in the spring of 2022, a few months before the midterm elections. “In several states where Democratic candidates were in trouble, commercials highlighting the dangers of these reforms flooded the television networks. They have achieved their goal: several candidates have asked their parties not to pass these laws before the November elections”. emphasizes Bloomberg.

Gafam lobbyists also knew how to choose their words according to the political color of their interlocutors. To Democrats, they argued that these laws would destroy privacy and especially harm minorities, while Republicans were treated to a verse about the dangers of free speech online if they were prevented from promoting the best tools (ie, their own) to protect this sacred First Amendment, says Bloomberg.

Dozens of small entrepreneurs – backed by Amazon and Google – traveled to Washington in March to support the cause of Big Tech, whose solutions would be crucial to the development of their online businesses. Some of these Gafam-funded SME associations even claimed to speak on behalf of members who had never actually heard of them, the CNBC channel discovered.

Google also raised the threat from Beijing to intimidate elected officials. The Internet giant “has mobilized its network of former members of Homeland Security” to explain that any regulatory impediment to the activities of US multinationals would be a gift to Chinese competitors who do not have to comply with such regulations. , says Bloomberg.

“We’ve been seeing ads constantly for months and getting hundreds of calls and emails,” acknowledged Democrat Chris Coons, interviewed by the Economic Channel. This close friend of President Joe Biden even received a personal visit from the CEOs of Google and Apple, specifies the Washington Post.

Big Tech or Too Big Tech?

Faced with this show of force, the camp of supporters of these provisions could hardly cope. A coalition of smaller tech companies—including search engine DuckDuckGo, secure Gmail alternative Proton, and business review company Yelp—had formed to support these reforms.

They also bought ads and multiplied contacts with elected officials. But in this battle, Goliath was really too strong for those who lobbied David’s. During the first six months of 2022, advocacy groups for these “anti-Big Tech” bills spent $193,000 on advertising, a far cry from the $36.4 million that Gafam mobilized during the same period, the Wall Street Journal calculated.

The Big Tech giants were busy derailing the regulatory offensive. From 1 January 2023, a new Congress – whose members were elected in the mid-term elections in November – will take office. “Much more divided, it risks not succeeding in agreeing on major bipartisan texts”, emphasizes the Wall Street Journal.

Advocates of limiting Gafam’s powers were to throw their forces into battle before the end of the year. That’s why Google, Apple and the others have pulled out all the stops, and by winning this round they hope to have won the war.

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