With Congress and privacy watchdogs breathing down its neck, Google is stepping up its lobbying presence inside the Beltway — spending more than Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft combined in the first three months of the year.
Google spent $5.03 million on lobbying from January through March of this year, a record for the Internet giant, and a 240 percent increase from the $1.48 million it spent on lobbyists in the same quarter a year ago, according to disclosures filed Friday with the clerk of the House.
By comparison, Apple spent $500,000; Facebook spent $650,000 Amazon spent $870,000; and Microsoft spent $1.79 million. Google even outspent Verizon Wireless, a notoriously big spender, which spent $4.51 million.
The increase is a sign that the search engine can no longer afford to operate in a Silicon Valley vacuum. For years, Google had a reputation for indifference inside the Beltway. It took Google until May 2005 to set up a presence in Washington and even then, its headquarters consisted of a one-man lobbying shop in suburban Maryland.
By 2012, however, Google had become the subject of almost constant scrutiny from regulators, competitors and privacy advocates. Most recently, federal regulators hit Google with a $25,000 fine for impeding an investigation into its data collection practices.
This year, the company was accused of bypassing Apple’s privacy settings in Safari in order to track users’ Web browsing activity without their knowledge. In the European Union, Google faces an antitrust investigation and accusations that it violated personal privacy protections.
“As we have seen over the last year, there are a number of technology issues being debated in Washington,” said Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, in an e-mail message. “These are important issues and it should be expected that we would want to help people understand our business.”
Privacy advocates see it another way. “Google claims its motto is ‘Don’t be evil,’ but the amount of cash they are throwing around demonstrates an astounding cynicism,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director.