Big Tech Doesn’t Care About Your Voting Rights
The tech industry’s new Chamber of Progress diverts attention away from thorny tech policy issues
Two years ago Google fired its chief lobbyist of twelve years, mostly it seems for having been so darn good at his job. Adam Kovacevich was a longtime Joe Lieberman flack and an inveterate astroturf activist: the son of a central California grape grower, he led his first grassroots campaign from his Harvard dorm room, to break the dining hall’s United Farm Worker’s-inspired grape boycott. When he came aboard the Not Yet Evil empire in 2007, Google didn’t even have a dedicated lobbyist, though it was spending all of six figures a year retaining four outside lobbying firms.
Kovacevich centralized operations and turned Google from a lobbying nonentity to a Boeing-esque Beltway juggernaut replete with 100 staffers and its own tax-exempt industrial complex of advocacy groups and think tanks. Correctly anticipating, having flacked through the big antitrust case against Microsoft, that antitrust sticklers would be his biggest antagonists, he built a whole public relations strategy around positioning the company as the consummate facilitator of competition. “Competition is just one click away,” he wrote.
And Obama’s antitrust enforcers bought in. When reality handed the Federal Trade Commission an open-and-shut antitrust case against Google so thorough and bulletproof a Bush era FTC chairman called it “breathtaking”, the agency mysteriously declined to pursue it, despite Google’s status as the most obvious monopoly in the freaking universe and their own executives’ boasts of paying “humongous” sums to mobile phone carriers and Apple to keep it that way. But commissioners instead chose to side with staff economists, who argued the mobile market for search was “too small to pose an antitrust issue.”
But seven years later when Google again returned to the regulatory crosshairs, this time for making an illegal pact with Facebook to fix online ad auctions and coordinate their privacy violations so as to maximize the efficiency with which they quietly conquered the brave new world of surveillance advertising, something changed. Kovacevich was set free, reduced to shilling for a doomed scooter rental service and wondering…