The Soft Corruption of Big Tech’s Antitrust Defense
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are paying third parties millions to make their case. Sometimes we know about the money, sometimes we don’t.
When New York State Senator Michael Gianaris called a hearing last September to discuss his new Big Tech antitrust bill, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft all declined to appear. But as he sorted the schedule, the Progressive Policy Institute, a “radically pragmatic” think tank, asked to send a representative.
Alec Stapp, that representative, mounted a robust defense of Big Tech in prepared remarks at the session. But when Giannaris started asking about PPI’s funding, he clammed up. “In my role in research,” Stapp said. “I’m not privy to the full donor list or who gives how much money.”
Left unsaid was that Apple, Facebook, and Google are all PPI donors, a fact that still frustrates Gianaris. “If Big Tech wants to defend itself,” he told me, “It should have the courage to do so.”
That courage seems to be slipping away as support for antitrust action against Big Tech builds. These companies are instead paying third parties like PPI to make their case for them, and the organizations reliably advance their arguments, do so with spotty disclosure, shield them from criticism, and add credibility to their defense. It’s money well spent for the tech giants. All the while, the third parties tell us — and themselves — they aren’t bought.
Stapp’s PPI is relatively unknown, but it’s not alone. The Brookings Institution, an esteemed think tank, takes money from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Yet it implausibly insists the money doesn’t influence its positions. In an article suggesting 21 questions Congress should ask Big Tech ahead of their CEOs’ hearing last year, Brookings claimed its findings were “not influenced by any donation.” Yet its questions included softballs like, “What is your greatest hope about technology today?” A more honest statement would admit that when companies spend money, they’re buying something.
Brookings would not stand fully by its disclosure when reached for comment. The institution, a…