TTP Investigation: As Trump Spread Election Lies, Big Tech Worked His Trade Office
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 22, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a report showing how tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon made heavy use of the Trump administration to advance their foreign business interests last year, undeterred by Trump’s escalating promotion of baseless election conspiracy theories. The tech giants sought the help of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) in derailing tech legislation in other countries that the companies feared could restrict their operations or add costly new rules, according to emails obtained by TTP under the Freedom of Information Act.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “These corporations are trying to have it both ways. Their CEOs condemned the U.S. Capitol riot stoked by Trump’s election lies, but for months as Trump ramped up his conspiracy rhetoric, the companies worked behind the scenes to get the administration’s help in protecting their bottom line.”
The tech executives issued forceful statements following the Capitol riot. Google’s Sundar Pichai called the events “the antithesis of democracy,” Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg described it as “a dark moment in our nation’s history,” and Apple CEO Tim Cook said it marks a “sad and shameful chapter in our nation’s history.” But the records unearthed by TTP suggest the companies had little problem squeezing what they could out of the Trump administration as Trump fanned the flames of disinformation and conspiracies.
Facebook enlisted USTR in May 2020 to fight a piece of privacy legislation in Japan that the company warned could disrupt “important safety work” with its Messenger service and make it difficult to provide “feature-rich services.” Facebook made the ask shortly after Trump stoked the armed, anti-lockdown protests in various states, tweeting calls to “LIBERATE” Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia.
Google pressed USTR for assistance on a piece of South Korean legislation in October-November 2020. A USTR official assured Google that he raised the company’s objections with Korean officials “without saying from whom I had the information.” During this period, Trump ramped up false voter fraud allegations and claimed he’d won the election even after Biden secured electoral victory.
Apple appeared to ask the USTR to intervene on app-store legislation and a long-running antitrust investigation in South Korea that the company feared could harm its business, according to the emails obtained by TTP. The requests represented a continuation of the companies’ business-as-usual approach to leveraging the Trump administration, despite mounting signs of Trump’s effort to undermine the U.S. election process.
USTR also reached out to Amazon for “expert” advice on digital service taxes in India, Italy, Turkey, and the UK in August-September 2020. A few months later, the trade office determined that digital taxes in those same countries “discriminate” against American tech companies. The Amazon-USTR consultations took place despite Trump’s frequent attacks on Amazon, including his accusations that the company dodges taxes.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “The big tech firms found a way to leverage USTR during the Trump era even as Trump attacked them publicly. Now they’ll likely be trying to do the same during the Biden administration. Anyone who is even remotely concerned with the power of Big Tech should keep a watchful eye on how these companies try to work the trade office and other parts of the U.S. government to gain and maintain global influence.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.