Apple’s vying to rejoin its seat alongside Meta and Amazon as a member of the four dollar sign club of corporate political influence.
Apple, Meta, and Amazon all amped up their lobbying spending in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same time last year, with Apple increasing its spending by nearly 100%. That massive shift comes as all of these companies stare down a looming salvo of antitrust legislation crawling their way through the U.S. House and Senate which, if passed, threaten to bludgeon critical parts of Big Tech’s business models.
Apple spent a record quarterly high of $2.5 million, while Meta and Amazon spent $5.4 million and $4 million respectively according to documents filed to Congress first spotted by The Hill. Though Apple’s overall spending figure is smaller than the other two giants, it posted a staggering 71% increase from the amount it spent during the same quarter last year. That’s also reportedly a 34% increase from the amount Apple spent last quarter. Big Tech’ no stranger to massive lobbying, but historically Apple was somewhat less culpable than its peers. That degree of separation could vanish entirely though, if the company continues this level of lobbying.
Meta and Amazon didn’t exactly tighten their belts either. Meta, which broke its own quarterly lobbying record at the end of 2021, increased its spending by 13% compared to the same time last year. Amazon increased its spending by 4%. Meta is currently fighting multiple antitrust lawsuits, including one waged by the Federal Trade Commission. Amazon on the other hand, has faced less legal attacks but just recently had an antitrust suit lodged against it by Washington D.C. attorney general Karl Racine thrown out by a U.S. court.
Gizmodo spoke to Tech Oversight Project Deputy Executive Director Kyle Morse who drew a direct line between all that increased spending and real fears over impact of new antitrust legislation.
“Big Tech is spending gargantuan amounts of money on lobbying and misleading ad campaigns to silence the majority of Americans who want to rein them in,” Morse said. “Bottom line: They are running scared because they know antitrust is bipartisan and gaining momentum in Congress.”
Though there are a variety of antitrust efforts currently under consideration, there’s one bill in particular, The Open Markets Act, that would especially sting Apple. Proposed by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn, the bill would prevent app market operators like Apple from engaging in seedy tactics to grant themselves self-preferential treatment. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance that legislation back in February. The bill has the support of smaller (though not companies) like Spotify and Epic who have railed against Apple, sometimes in dramatic fashion, for what they see as a restrictive platform imbued with overly expensive fees. Case in point, Epic launched this ad back in 2020 comparing Apple’s App Store polices to George Orwell’s 1984.
Apple did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’ request for comment.
Gizmodo spoke with American Economic Liberties Project Senior Policy Analyst Krista Brown who said Apple’s massive spending increase was probably the result of numerous factors, but believed worries around The Open Markets Act almost certainly played a factor.
“It would be foolish not to notice that the Open App Markets bill, which is similar to legislation that they’ve been fighting aggressively in state legislatures, passed out of the Senate judiciary 20 to 2,” Brown said. “There is overwhelming support to break Apple’s app store monopoly and their increased spending would indicate that they are trying to stifle those efforts.”
Apple’s top dog hasn’t kept quiet about where he stands on antitrust either. Last week, in a speech given at the IAPP Global Privacy Summit, Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized legislation and gave the “if you regulate us we can’t secure your iPhone” argument. (Apple’s done this before)
“Here in Washington and elsewhere, policymakers are taking steps in the name of competition that would force Apple to let apps on the iPhone circumvent the App Store through a process called sideloading,” Cook said according to CNBC. “That means data-hungry companies would be able to avoid our privacy rules, and once again track our users against their will.”
Cook also spoke out against the prospect of sideloading apps, which he said “would also potentially give bad actors a way around the comprehensive security protections we put in place.”
Tim Apple, as the company’s chief executive is known by one Florida resident, isn’t alone. Mark Isakowitz, Google’s VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy lashed out at antitrust efforts earlier this year as well. “This bill could destroy many consumer benefits that current payment systems provide and distort competition by exempting gaming platforms, which amounts to Congress trying to artificially pick winners and losers in a highly competitive marketplace,” Isakowitz said according to CNBC.
Big Tech might not like these antitrust efforts, but the public does. Recent polling conducted by Morning Consult found that 67% of U.S. adults believe the benefits large tech companies provide don’t outweigh the dangers posed by their increased power. Around two in five adults said there should be more regulation of tech companies, up from around 3 in 10 who said so the previous year. 42% of all adults surveyed said they believed antitrust investigations into tech companies would be effective.
“Studies show that corporate lobbying works, so it’s no surprise that Big Tech firms have doubled down as efforts to restrain their power gain steam,” Brown of the American Economic Liberties Project said. “But even a record-breaking spending blitz on fancy ads and a new team of lobbyists can’t hide the reality that Big Tech firms are a threat to our economy and democracy. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle and at every level of government are now wide awake to this reality, and we expect them to act forcefully.”