As Antitrust Scrutiny Rises, Google Lobbying Soars in Washington

Documents are apparently showing that Google’s lobbying efforts have skyrocketted. This as antitrust efforts proceed.

The heat on the antitrust debate with “big tech” is rising. Earlier, we reported on the coalition of US states appealing their antitrust case against Google and Facebook. This, of course, revolves around the alleged cozy relationship the two companies have when it comes to online advertising. The initial reports were, of course, nothing new. The accusations have been around for years.

Of course, lurking beneath the surface were some pretty significant accusations. Unsealed court documents show that the coalition of US states are also accusing Google of suppressing publisher ad revenue by up to 40%. This under a formerly secret program called “Project Bernanke”. The accusations of where the program ultimately ended up are quite significant. They basically suggest that Google had been underpaying publishers for advertising space all the while charging those buying advertising space full price. Google would then keep the surplus cash so they can pump up their preferred advertisements in subsequent ad auctions. The portion of the ad market online this would affect if these accusations are true would be quite significant.

We should emphasize that none of these allegations have been proven in court as of yet.

Google, for their part, responded to the allegations. Google basically asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit entirely on the basis that the plaintiffs have no evidence to back up their claims and that the lawsuit’s accusations have no merit. So, the case is now left to a judge to decide.

In the mean time, another report is surfacing suggesting that lobbying has increased significantly from Google. A report on the Post-Gazette says that Google’s lobbying has increased by over 25%:

Google escalated its spending on Washington lobbyists last year as the technology behemoth fought antitrust scrutiny from both federal enforcers and new legislation that would change the way some of its most popular products work together.

Google’s lobbying expenditures increased 27.5% in 2021 to $9.6 million, according to disclosure reports that were due Thursday. In addition to the specific antitrust bills, some of which could threaten Google’s business model, the company’s Washington team lobbied on a range of issues including cloud computing, the semiconductor supply chain, cybersecurity, global tax issues, pandemic contact tracing and the remote learning technologies that have become a central part of education.

The increase reflects the tougher scrutiny from Washington on the technology companies that have a bigger presence than ever in U.S. economic activity, civil discourse and everyday life. Along with bipartisan concerns about content moderation and user privacy, a new generation of antitrust activists has described these hugely profitable digital companies as the new robber barons that use anticompetitive conduct to maintain and grow their market dominance.

Google is also fighting antitrust lawsuits from a coalition of states and the U.S. Department of Justice. President Joe Biden last year appointed Jonathan Kanter, a long-time Google critic, to lead the department’s antitrust division.

The report goes on to note the increased lobbying expenditures of other larger platforms as controversy continues to swirl for them.

On the one hand, this is throughout the year of 2021, so basically, this lobbying happened before the accusations of ad revenue suppression was made public. On the other hand, this was lobbying that was going on while the antitrust cases were ongoing. It’s hard to really draw very many direct connections between the two issues. After all, such lobbying could have very easily been happening for a range of issues that had nothing to do with the antitrust litigation that was going on. Still, it is interesting that the lobbying did spike on the same year that these issues were escalating, too.

At any rate, this probably won’t do anything to temper the chatter surrounding the dominance of the likes of Google. Chances are, players in the media are going to play up any possible connection between Google’s increased lobbying activity and the antitrust issues in the coming days. This regardless of whether or not there is a strong connection to be made in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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