Google cut its lobbying spending nearly in half in 2019, while Facebook took the lead

Key Points
  • Google cut its lobbying spending nearly in half in 2019 from 2018 as it faces multiple wide-reaching probes into its business.
  • Amazon, Apple and Facebook all increased their lobbying spending last year.
Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., speaks during the Google I/O Developers Conference in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google cut its lobbying spending nearly in half last year from 2018, even as government investigations into tech companies have scaled up in Washington and throughout the country.

Of the four tech giants thought to be facing antitrust scrutiny, Alphabet's Google was the only one that reduced its year-over-year spending, according to newly released filings.

Here's the breakdown: 

Google faces antitrust probes from the Justice Department and a coalition of 50 attorneys general across the country. Its YouTube subsidiary had to answer to the Federal Trade Commission last year with a $170 million settlement over claims that it violated child privacy laws. In the fourth quarter, it lobbied on mobile location privacy, online child safety, encryption standards and more. (Google is the main business unit of holding company Alphabet, and accounts for substantially all its revenue and profits.)

Google's reduced spending reflects that it fired about half a dozen firms representing about half of its lobbying bill, according to a June report in The Wall Street Journal. The move was part of a broader change in Google's global government affairs and policy operations.

As Google is scaling back, its peers are ramping up.

Of the four tech firms, Facebook increased its year-over-year lobbying spending by the greatest percentage. The company faces a federal antitrust probe from the FTC and a state-led probe by 47 attorneys general.

Facebook has generally taken a more engaged approach in 2019 compared with previous years, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg visiting lawmakers for private meetings on tech regulation and an open hearing on the company's cryptocurrency plans. In the fourth quarter, it lobbied the government on issues including encryption, election integrity and content policy.

Amazon, which spent a similar amount as Facebook, also reportedly faces an antitrust probe from the FTC and heavily pursued a lucrative cloud contract with the Pentagon last year that it ultimately lost to Microsoft. Amazon lobbied on facial recognition technology, cloud computing and more in the fourth quarter.

Apple has received antitrust scrutiny related to its App Store and has sparred with the Justice Department over access to its encrypted devices. In the fourth quarter, it lobbied the government on issues related to music licensing, mobile payments and patent litigation, among other topics.

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