Google in ultimate lobbying attempt to influence new EU tech rules

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Google is making a final push to change the EU’s new Big Tech laws with a flurry of targeted ads, emails and social media posts aimed at politicians and officials in Brussels.

As EU policymakers put the finishing touches on the Digital Markets Act (DMA), executives at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley are stepping up efforts to relax parts of the legislation that they say could have a serious impact on their business.

“California’s top executives have known about DMA from the start, but they’re not waking up until now,” a Google insider said.

The campaign includes direct lobbying from Google, but also from several professional associations that the search engine giant finances.

Kim van Sparrentak, a Dutch MEP, said she had noticed a marked escalation in lobbying in recent weeks, with the message that curbing Google would hurt small businesses.

She said she was invited to discuss her point of view with Google, at a time of her choosing, and was invited to an event hosted by Google on the benefits of digital marketing for small businesses.

She was also approached by the Connected Commerce Council, whose partners include Google and Amazon, with a letter signed by small business owners saying, “Please don’t make it difficult for my business. “

Other MPs and officials said their Twitter feeds had recently been filled with announcements from tech lobby groups on issues of particular concern to Google. “My diet is overdrive,” said an EU diplomat.

A campaign against a proposal to ban targeted advertising, which appeared on Twitter and in the trade press, was carried out by IAB Europe.

“I am the target of an almost unrecognizable advertisement aimed at EU officials promoting false information and referring only to IAB studies,” wrote Alderik Oosthoek, political adviser to the European Parliament. on Twitter.

The Digital Markets Law, which has progressed smoothly so far in the European Parliament and is expected to come into force in early 2023, aims to limit the power of the “gatekeepers” of Big Tech; companies like Google whose platforms dominate the online economy. Last week, the German competition watchdog officially defined Google as a “gatekeeper”, opening it up to tighter national oversight.

Google is concerned that the law is preventing it from promoting businesses it owns, such as its travel and hospitality comparison services, on its search results pages, a practice known as “self-preference.” “.

This could force Google to “fundamentally change the design of general search pages,” said Thomas Hoppner of the Hausfeld law firm.

The sense of urgency at Google was compounded by a major legal defeat late last year when the Luxembourg Court upheld a € 2.42 billion antitrust fine against the company for to have promoted its own shopping comparison service above its competitors in the search results.

In the weeks following the judgment, Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, discussed the case and upcoming tech regulations with Margrethe Vestager, EU head of digital and competition. in a virtual meeting.

Meanwhile, Kent Walker, Alphabet’s head of global affairs, held similar meetings with other high-level regulators, including Vera Jourova, EU vice president.

Thomas Vinje, legal advisor at FairSearch, said the court ruling and DMA posed a threat to Google because “its very business model depends on putting its competitors at a disadvantage and favoring its own services in its search results.”

Although it made some adjustments after the initial 2017 fine, Google has yet to make any further changes to its search pages in light of the Luxembourg ruling, which it is expected to appeal.

In addition, Google is concerned about a proposal for a European ban on targeted advertising pushed by a group of MEPs, although the common position is currently short of a total ban.

“The position of MEPs on targeted advertising is crazy,” said a person close to Google, adding that such a ban would result in more pop-ups asking for consent.

According to the EU transparency register, Google invested around € 6 million in lobbying-related activities in 2020 and has around eight in-house lobbyists in Brussels, as well as outside lawyers and consultants. Last year he was forced to apologize to Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner who is also responsible for digital regulation, after it emerged that Google was organizing a plan to “push back” against him.

Intense lobbying may not have the desired effect. “These are the bad guys right now,” said a parliamentary aide involved in the DMA talks. “Everything that comes from them is a little embarrassing and hard to justify why we would include it in legislation.”

Andreas Schwab, MEP leading the DMA debate in parliament and longtime Google critic, said the company’s efforts were “a little too late” to have a major impact.

“I get the impression they are worried,” said Schwab, who met with Google’s Walker a few weeks ago. “And they should be.”

Google said: “We believe that Europeans should be able to take advantage of the best services that Google can create. It is clear that some of the proposals of the DMA and the DSA [Digital Services Act] will directly affect us and impact the way we innovate our products in Europe. We care about finding the right balance and we know our users and customers care too. Like many others, we have engaged openly and constructively with decision-makers throughout the legislative process to make our point known.

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