Facebook increased its lobbying spending by almost 200 per cent in 2012 as it waged battles with Washington policy makers over consumer privacy, data collection and immigration.
The social networking company paid $3.99m to influence the US regulatory fabric last year, compared to $1.34m the year before, according to disclosure forms filed with the government.
“Our presence and growth in Washington reflect our commitment to explaining how our service works, the actions we take to protect the billion plus people who use our service, the importance of preserving an open internet, and the value of innovation to our economy,” Facebook said.
Facebook was joined by Google and Microsoft in its lobbying efforts, with those technology giants increasing spending by 70 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.
Google spent $16.5m on lobbying last year, up from $9.68m in 2011. Microsoft spent $8.09m compared to $7.34m the year before.
“There’s a lot more potential regulation and laws coming out about how these companies do business,” said Alan Webber, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. “They’re all very concerned about that, and they’re all thinking, ‘We want to influence the law from our perspective.’”
Facebook’s increased spending reflects the increased attention it received from US regulators and privacy advocates since becoming a public company, as well as a desire to head-off conflicts proactively by educating lawmakers about its projects before the advocates can.
For example, the company pursued a massive push in its advertising business this year, particularly its mobile advertising business, in response to pressure from Wall Street to boost revenues. New tools and services involve more intricate data tracking and analysis. The practice garnered the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which last year launched an investigation into nine data brokers, including one that partners with Facebook.
Meanwhile, Google lobbied on more than a dozen issues, including concerns around its YouTube and Google Earth Services.
Both companies also tried to sway opinion on several pieces of legislation under consideration, such as Do Not Track laws, and broader policies, like immigration reform that would allow the companies to hire more foreign-born high tech workers.
The lobbying increase in the US is mirrored by efforts in the European Union. Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, participated in meetings in Brussels earlier this week, where he said lobbying by Silicon Valley companies and the Obama Administration of EU officials around privacy laws was “very intense”.
Technology companies are interested in standardising privacy regulations across borders, Mr Webber said, as it would make it easier – and therefore cheaper – for them to comply.
Mr Chester called this effort an attempt to “weaken” Europe’s privacy laws.
“But we think we will see the EU take a forward step forward on privacy – which will make Facebook, Google, Yahoo rethink how they do business,” he said.
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