Why Google and Facebook Are Spending Record Amounts On Lobbying
TechCrunch reports that 2012 marks record spending in D.C. for both Google and Facebook. In the first quarter of 2012, Google dropped over $5 million in lobbying dollars, while Facebook spent $650,000 (which is measly by comparison, but is already almost half of what it spent in all of 2011). Google tripled the amount it spent last year in the same time period, while Facebook came close to doing the same. This means this year will continue the upward trend lines on their respective D.C. budget charts.
The simple explanation for why these two companies are going gangbusters with their D.C. spending is that D.C. is going gangbusters with potential Internet legislation. Here’s the laundry list of Internet bills that are or recently have been on the table in D.C.:
1. This week is Cyber Week in Washington, because Congress is considering a slew of potential cybersecurity bills. The one that’s gotten the most attention is CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. This one would encourage private companies to hand over information to the government about cyber attacks and network insecurities. Supported by Facebook and reportedly by Google, it includes incentives for companies including liability limitations, the information not being used for regulatory purposes, and the promise that government will share information in return. Civil liberties groups are concerned about the bill’s vagueness, and the fact that companies will be able to bypass existing privacy laws when they hand data over. They’d like narrower definition of what can be turned over, when it can be turned over, who gets access to it and how it can be used against users.
2. CISPA is far from the only cybersecurity bill that has attracted lobbying attention from Google and Facebook. There’s the PRECISE Act, which is supposed to protect that nation’s critical infrastructure by requiring players like power companies to meet government-set standards to protect themselves from hackers; and the SECURE IT Act; and the DATA Act… The list goes on. We could combine them all into one big “Hackers Please Go Away And Stop Messing With Us” Act.
3. Privacy initiatives, such as Do Not Track. There’s been lots of talk about giving consumers the right not to be tracked online. Representatives Ed Markey and Joe Barton are pushing the Do Not Track Kids Act, “prohibiting Internet companies from sending targeted advertising to children and teens and collecting personal and location information without parental or individual consent.” Meanwhile the Commerce Department has punted on Do Not Track for adults, saying in a recent white paper that it’s content with private industry coming up with an option for consumers to signal they don’t want to have online tracking darts shot into them by advertisers, browsers, and websites.
4. The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act. Aw. Remember this collaborative effort by Senators John McCain and John Kerry that would spell out how our personal data could be used? All is quiet on that front for now.
5. SOPA/PIPA. The Stop Online Privacy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Acts were anti-piracy bills that attracted the ire of Internet companies and the masses for the limits they would set on free speech. Both died very horrible and painful deaths after lobbying by Google, Facebook and others and coordinated online protests by Wikipedia, Reddit, and others.
6. The Video Privacy Protection Act. Netflix and Facebook have been pushing hard for Congress to revisit the law that forbids video providers from disclosing what we’ve rented/watched. Netflix says the law is preventing it from jumping on the Facebook frictionless sharing bandwagon, though Hulu’s lawyers came to a different conclusion. (Netflix’s spending for the first quarter of 2012 is not in the Lobbying Disclosure database yet.)
7. Data Breach bills. Right now, data breach notification requirements vary across the country depending on which state a company is based in (or which states its newly-exposed customers reside in). Congress has been considering a couple of Data Breach Notification acts that would standardize the process for when, why, and how companies have to let you know that your data has gone viral, has gone missing, or has fallen into the hands of hackers. Also on the table is the SAFE Data Act, requiring companies to better protect the data they have.