A Week of Reckoning for Big Tech

By: David Dayen, The American Prospect, July 16, 2019

Today begins a pivotal moment for the tech platforms that have been allowed to dominate the nation’s economy and democracy for many years. Three separate hearings in three different congressional committees over the next two days will reveal the extent to which Big Tech has lost all its allies on Capitol Hill, and whether it will be able to escape real scrutiny of its practices anyway.

Two of the three hearings concern Facebook’s digital currency Libra, amid bipartisan consternation. After Libra was announced last month, I expressed concern that nobody in Washington was taking it very seriously. My concern has lifted.

A new report out today from the Google Transparency Project details a non-profit named the Connected Commerce Council, or 3C, pitching itself as “the voice of small business.” Curiously, they only seem interested with Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Since launching in 2018, 3C has testified before Congress twice, filed public comments in seven separate matters before regulatory agencies, held several events, unloaded reams of Big Tech-friendly writing at its website and in newspaper op-eds, and met with over 50 members of Congress, always defending Big Tech. “Google is essential to my business,” said the purported publisher of Madeworthy Magainze after a hearing on Google’s effect on journalism. “Members of Congress should know the value Google unlocks for publishers like me.”

Here comes the obvious punch line: 3C is an astroturf group for Big Tech. While the small businesses look to be genuine, many happen to have extensive revenue deals with tech firms; one was an event planner at Google’s Washington office. Others have been featured speakers at events funded by the platforms. Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Square make up 3C’s “Partner Council,” which 3C admits provide “general support” (i.e. money) for its operations.

At least six of 3C’s staff and consultants worked for Google, Amazon, or trade groups they financed. Communications groups who get Google and Amazon work are crawling all over 3C’s operations. The president of 3C, Jake Ward, spent six years at the Application Developers Alliance, another front group of small businesses that had the involvement of Google, and runs another Google and Facebook-funded front group simultaneously. Even an allegedly independent report 3C sent to Congress supporting “access to digital tools for small businesses” was actually commissioned by Google.

The obvious self-dealing from the likes of the platforms might explain the bipartisan revulsion at its tactics. Whether this has reached a tipping point will be on display at the hearings. Does Big Tech have any defenders left in Washington that aren’t on the payroll?

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