TTP Investigation: Big Tech Uses Small Businesses as a PR Shield in the Fight Against New Regulations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 1, 2021
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 that Facebook, Google, and other Big Tech companies are quietly using a hand-picked group of small businesses to amplify their anti-regulatory messages. A key example of this tactic is the Connected Commerce Council (3C), a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that bills itself as a voice for small business but in reality serves as a front for Big Tech. Through organizations like 3C, tech companies can amplify their stances on privacy, antitrust, and other hot-button issues—without industry fingerprints.
CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “By making small businesses the face of its backdoor, anti-regulatory PR campaigns, Big Tech is trying to trick legislators into thinking that their constituents are against many proposed—and long overdue—reforms. Meanwhile, CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg sit before Congress and play the good guy, expressing vague support for regulations, knowing full well his company is pushing a ‘grassroots’ counter-message behind the scenes.”
The Connected Commerce Council has said it advocates on behalf of more than 10,000 “digitally empowered” small business owners with the “support and expertise” of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and mobile payment processor Square. But a closer look reveals that a select group of members shows up time and time again in ads pushing the industry’s agenda.
One of these small businesses is Grandview, Missouri, plumbing company Morgan Miller Plumbing, which has been featured by Facebook and by Google in separate PR campaigns. The Facebook campaign, protesting Apple’s software update meant to bolster user privacy, featured Morgan Miller Plumbing founder Jeff Morgan saying, “With this change, we will most likely see a significant increase in spend, which is not small business friendly after a year like 2020. It’s just adding insult to injury.” Google, meanwhile, featured the plumbing company in a campaign showing how important its digital tools have been for small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, including a tweet that read, “Helping millions of businesses adapt and recover.” The CEO of Morgan Miller Plumbing, Stella Crewse, is a member of 3C’s board of directors.
The current president of 3C, Jake Ward, has led or been involved with other nonprofits that count big tech companies as financial supporters or clients. From 2011 to 2017, Ward co-founded and served as president of the Facebook- and Google-supported Application Developers Alliance. And, in November 2018, not long after 3C launched, he incorporated a second nonprofit called the Data Catalyst Institute, also supported by Google and Facebook, which put out policy analysis on privacy regulations that frequently supported the positions of its funders.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “It’s important to recognize that when you see an ad from Facebook or Google featuring a small business owner, advocating for the status quo when it comes to how these companies use our data, it’s likely not someone plucked at random. These tech giants have succeeded in finding the right ‘mom and pop’ faces that will advocate for them time and time again. If legislators fall for this ploy, they will have failed to represent the actual desire of everyday Americans: to have a safer and fairer internet for themselves and their families.”
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.