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Apple and big tech lobbying fends off U.S. legislative efforts

US Capitol. [Alejandro Barba]

US legislative attempts to curb the power of the tech giants have failed, reportedly beaten by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on lobbyists working for Apple, Amazon, Google, and Meta.

A last-minute and aggressive effort was made to include a pair of bills, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act, in the end-of-year spending package on Monday, but one that ultimately failed. The package would've been the last real chance the bills had to pass in 2022.

The failure of the two bills has been put down to lobbying efforts working on the behalf of the group of tech giants, who didn't want the bills to pass through, according to Bloomberg. The effort included hefty spending, as well as having chief executives making appearances and pressure from trade groups.

The two antitrust bills had the potential to cause trouble for the tech giants, especially Apple. However, while they progressed further than others seeking reform have managed, they ultimately stalled at the final hurdle.

During the session, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer didn't put the bills to the floor, under claims they didn't have enough votes, despite bill co-sponsors insisting they did.

The American Innovation and Choice Online Act would have prevented Apple and others from favoring their own services versus third parties. Meanwhile the Open App Markets Act would have prompted Apple to allow third-party app stores and sideloading to take place.

Heavy spending

Lobbyists have been hard at work trying to keep the bills, and similar ones, from passing. In September, it was reported that $95 million had been spent in lobbying against the bills.

"Big tech companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in a brazen attempt to thwart any progress on tech policy in Washington," said Jane Meyer, spokeswoman for Senator Amy Klobuchar (D), a bill sponsor. The co-sponsors of the bills "did not back down despite that onslaught."

More than $100 million had been spent on lobbying against the bills over two years, with more than $5 million donated to politicians and more than $1 million going to a PAC to defend a Democrat majority. Dark-money groups, trade associations, and others were also the targets of funding.

Of the big four, Meta spent the most on lobbying since 2021 at $35.6 million, followed by Amazon at $34.2 million, and Google at $17.8 million. Apple rounds out the list at $12.8 million.

Advertising campaigns valued at $130 million were deployed in swing states, implying that the parties would lose out if they supported the legislation. There were claims that services like Amazon Prime and Google's search would be destroyed by the bills, among others.

The ads worked in helping delay putting the bills to the floor before elections.

Apple's spending involved paying the Taxpayers Protection Alliance to make the "App Security Project," arguing the bills would open smartphones up to hacking and spying. Meanwhile, CEO Tim Cook joined his counterparts in meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"There has been very forceful lobbying against this legislation," said Chris Coons (D), an ally of President Joe Biden. "Every one of us has seen dozens and dozens of TV ads, emails, social media posts," he added, and that he also sympathized with tech leader concerns about U.S. competitiveness with China.

Hope continues on

Despite the failure to put the bills up for the vote, there is still hope from advocates that changes will eventually occur.

"Big tech is delaying the inevitable, and the bigger fight continues," said the Economic Security Project's Alex Harman. The giants haven't won, but rather "they are just losing in slow motion."

They may get their wish in the future, at least based on what's happened in Europe.

After the introduction there of the Digital Markets Act, which affects Apple's App Store and payments systems among others, Apple is reportedly working in preparation of when it will be forced to do so.

If a continent like Europe is open to forcing Apple into enabling third-party app stores on the iPhone, there's always a chance that the U.S. could follow suit eventually.