Google is crafting plans to convince the incoming Biden administration to allow it to continue its growing monopoly over the internet.
The company, facing an antitrust suit from the Department of Justice and heightened public opposition to its power, will conduct an aggressive campaign on the Biden administration, including deploying an army of lobbyists paid millions of dollars and mobilizing tech insiders within the administration.
Google will find it far easier to influence the Biden administration than the Trump administration. While the Trump administration pursued a policy of toughness against Google, including filing the antitrust suit accusing the company of unlawfully maintaining monopolies in search and search advertising, Biden will surely be friendlier to the company’s monolithic power, as he spent his eight years in an administration entirely deferential to Big Tech.
During the eight years of the Obama administration, Big Tech had the right of way. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook expanded their control over their respective sectors and achieved industry dominance with little regulation. For example, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission did not intervene when Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012, despite accusations that the move was aimed at stifling competition.
Biden hardened his rhetoric on Big Tech on the campaign trail — in deference to increasing bipartisan opposition to the industry’s consolidated power — but he still largely avoided making Big Tech an issue for his campaign. Biden stated he thinks Section 230, which allows social media companies to avoid responsibility for content moderation, should be repealed, and the New York Times reported that “people with knowledge of his campaign” said Biden would continue the antitrust suit against Google.
Biden has maintained close ties to tech industry insiders, and his administration will likely be crowded with them.
Most notable is Biden’s relationship with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who is rumored as a possible pick to lead a new tech industry task force. Schmidt was a key fundraiser for the Biden campaign. One of Schmidt’s employees, Martha Gimbel, has already been announced as the head of the Council of Economic Advisers team. In addition, Meg Whitman, former HP and eBay CEO, is being floated as a possible commerce secretary.
Other tech industry insiders are already confirmed members of Biden’s transition team. They include Tom Sullivan, international tax director at Amazon; Matt Olsen, chief trust and security officer at Uber; Michael Hornsby, director of customer success at Salesforce; Divya Kumaraiah, a strategy executive at Airbnb; Brandon Belford, senior director at Lyft; Ann Dunkin, chief technology officer of local and state government at Dell; and Ted Dean, head of public policy at Dropbox.
While Biden is expected to continue the antitrust case against Google, his administration will have wide purview over the extent to which the suit subdues Google’s sovereignty over online advertising, search, and web services. That is, Biden could still let Google off easy.
Last month, we saw a hint of how Google will attempt to influence the Biden administration through a leaked internal company document. The embarrassing memo, first reported by French magazine Le Point, reveals a company that systematically and methodically uses its enormous power to convince governments to carry out its orders.
Titled “DSA 60-Day Plan Update,” the document lays out a detailed plan to combat the Digital Services Act, proposed European Union legislation designed to give competitors a fair chance against companies like Google and Facebook and overhaul content moderation. This could include prohibiting Google from featuring its own travel services first and supervising the pre-installation of smartphone apps.
The leaked document includes plans to flip key lawmakers to the company’s side, “mobilize” agreeable lawmakers, and conduct a massive public relations campaign. And in a move outside the bounds of traditional lobbying and big-business pressure, the document also reveals plans to utilize embassies and agencies of the U.S. government to pressure the Europeans.
The document goes so far as to strategize utilizing individual lawmakers. For example, Google planned in its document to meet with Luxembourg Minister of the Economy Franz Fayot the week of October 5. On October 19, Fayot gave an interview to the magazine Paperjam in which he said the “entire government” of Luxembourg supported a proposed Google data center in the country.
Google’s plan also included a strategy of encouraging the EU’s Directorate-General for Competition to “trigger a debate between the services” of the European Commission.
Worryingly, Le Point reports that Google plotted to use tools of the U.S. government, including embassies and trade representative offices, to influence the European governments. Google said in the document, according to Le Point, that they would focus on “sensitizing the American government.”
The revelation of this calculated manipulation did not help Google’s relationship with European leaders. Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai apologized to European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton for the way the documents leaked, according to Breton.
During their call, Breton told Pichai: “The internet cannot remain a ‘Wild West’; we need clear and transparent rules, a predictable environment and balanced rights and obligations.”
With this leaked document, we can imagine how Google would also carefully manipulate the Biden administration to get what it wants.
The first place Google will turn in the Biden administration will be the tech insiders filling up its ranks. If Biden wants to be serious about holding Big Tech accountable, he’ll reconsider filling his government with its executives.