EU lawmakers launch tips hotline to capture Big Tech’s ‘shady’ lobbying • TechCrunch

‘Astronomical grass-sliding’ and other non-transparent lobbying tactics have been used to target digital policymakers in the European Union in recent years — including during the flash spending aimed at influencing new EU-wide rules like the Digital Services Act (DSA) — inspired a group of MEPs and NGOs to fight back by launching a hotline to report attempts to indirectly influence the bloc’s technology policy agenda.

New line of advice, first reported by guardcalled LobbyLeaks.

The office of one of the MEPs co-leading the effort, Paul Tang of S&D Group, says the idea is to collect data on underground lobbying efforts that could target engineering policymaking. EU numbers – such as the use of ‘third party’ ‘industry associations’ or undisclosed consulting firms, or even quietly funded academics to create out research that benefits the author – so they can be researched and called upon. They also want to make sure EU lawmakers are better informed about the myriad of ways the tech giants may be seeking to influence them as they work to shape the rules the tech giants use. platform will have to follow.

Commenting on the initiative in a statement, Tang, added: “As politicians, it is our duty to balance the interests of industry, civil society and society at large. . Manipulation by shady lobbying is a threat not only to proper lawmaking but to our entire democracy. That’s why we must heed all these wolves in sheep’s clothing and fight against dishonest methods of lobbying.”

Final October Tang is one of a trio of MEPs that have filed a complaint with the EU’s Transparency Registry – alleging Amazon, Google and Meta (Facebook’s parent company) use third-party industry associations or groups that claim to represent representing startups and SMEs to clean up shady arguments and lobbying. All involved deny any wrongdoing – and that investigation is still ongoing. But Tang and the others clearly wanted to maintain the pressure in the meantime.

New reporting tools hosted on website. European Organizations employees and members are encouraged to use it to report shady or unusual things they have seen — for example, by forwarding unusual emails they have been sent or suspicious advertisements they find themselves targeted online.

LobbyLeaks is not actually a phone line but a kind of encrypted web page for sending messages. The idea there is to lower the barrier to reporting concerns. That includes time pressure — as lobbyists tend to be pretty busy people. In addition, there is a guarantee of “complete confidentiality” for all tips.

Two NGOs are involved in the initiative, European Business Observatory (CEO) and LobbyControl, will get tips and investigations — find out how to set up templates. And finally, to condemn dodgy lobbying and pressure to change transparency rules if needed.

Commenting in a statement, Bram Vranken, a campaigner and researcher at CEO, accused Big Tech of deploying underground lobbying to try to perpetuate a “toxic” business model based on abuse. exploitative use:

Big Tech’s business model is malicious. It is based on data mining and active surveillance advertising, deploys algorithmic content management systems that amplify disinformation and hate speech, and denies the rights of users. workers. Lobbyleaks will help expose this kind of deceptive and dubious influence that has become central to Big Tech’s lobbying tactics.

Such undisclosed lobbying undermines democratic accountability and fair process, and risks — at least — misleading lawmakers. Including giving advantage to those with the greatest resources to spend fostering and funding an extensive network of third-party ‘messagers’.

Last yeara report by the COE and another civil society group, Global Witnessshed some light on some of Big Tech’s recent lobbying activities in the EU — including in strategic areas like ad tracking, where a number of ad tech giants have tweaked their campaigning practices. their lobbying to avoid the risk of an outright ban being added to the DSA.

In this case, they prevailed: the EU institutions agree to only partial restrictions on the use of personal data for ad targeting – thus avoiding the risk of a complete ban on tracking and profiling.

During the DSA negotiations, some EU lawmakers also reported that they received overly targeted ads on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter — such as messages promoting self-declared statements. serving Facebook that restrictions on ad tracking would be harmful to small and medium-sized businesses — raising the question of whether highly targeted ad campaigns are appropriate. is picking out EU lawmakers in Brussels who are working on (or monitoring) relevant policy documents that constitute ‘lobbying’ in the official (and therefore should be disclosed) explicitly in the transparent registry) or not.

Tang’s office says the LobbyLeaks hotline aims to both add a disinfecting light to shady lobbying operations to keep up with evolving tactics and collect data that can be used. used to help inform legislators considering whether changes to EU transparency rules are needed to keep up with increasingly better trends. funded efforts to influence policymaking. Although the people behind the hotline are not currently calling for changes to the transparency law. But wait and see what LobbyLeaks unearths.

Some changes have already appeared in the EU — through political advertising transparency rules the Commission proposed last year November 2021. For example, upcoming rules will require political and interest-based ads to disclose information showing who paid for the message. Though it’s unclear how effective they are at cleaning up anti-democratic tactics like windsurfing.

While Big Tech’s lobbying for the EU has been massive during the current Commission’s term, thanks to major updates (and expansions) of the bloc’s digital rule book, there has been another major lobbying effort around previous digital copyright reform. So the problem is not an entirely new one – and the tactics that seek to disguise sponsor involvement aim to hide their company’s personal interests and protect them from liability. Basic processes (and their status from critical scrutiny) are of course even older. more than that; it’s the same dirty old play as Big Tobacco.

But it is clear that there has been a huge increase in lobbying activity with huge amounts of money now being regularly spent by Big Tech trying to shape the law that applies to them. And with the rise of a vast network of dubiously funded third parties, all conveniently fit the tech giants’ views.

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