After more than a decade, Facebook has finally caught up with Google -- at least, when it comes to lobbying in the nation’s capital.
Lobbying by the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media giant has increased steadily since 2016, when news broke that Facebook was allowing political marketing firm Cambridge Analytica to use the personal data of millions of its users without their permission. Since then, the company, which has more than 2 billion users globally, has come under fire from near-constant revelations about its data privacy practices. The company has admitted it ignores user privacy settings, dismissed government concerns over biometric facial matching, and has declined to remove demonstrably false political content from its platform.
Although a substantial amount of the $16.8 million spent on lobbying by Facebook last year dealt with privacy issues, the company’s top issues also included taxes, homeland security, and immigration. At least 10 reports cited lobbying on House and Senate versions of the Honest Ads Act, legislation that would expand disclosure requirements for political advertising and is supported by Facebook. Alphabet, the parent company of the Mountain View, Calif.-based advertising behemoth, spent $12.3 million; its biggest federal concerns included labor issues, consumer product safety, and copyright issues.
The Facebook lobbying expenditures reflect a common pattern among tech companies, which traditionally have eschewed spending large amounts of money on influence-peddling until regulators begin investigating their business practices. In 2009, when Google was under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, the search engine giant spent $4 million lobbying Capitol Hill; Facebook barely spent $200,000. By 2012, Google was spending at least $16.5 million on influencing lawmakers, its rough average for the next five years. Meanwhile, Facebook’s lobbying expenditures have climbed steadily every year since 2016.
Google’s lobbying expenses during the decade topped out at $21.2 million in 2018, when both the company and Facebook were the targets of an antitrust investigation from state lawmakers. The figure dropped significantly last year, as Google restructured its lobbying operation.