Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook…..The list of multi-billion corporate entities that have operations in the US and that have vested interests in the question of who walks the corridors of power, is quite long. As such, it is no surprise that these companies have been putting in significant resources into political lobbying. However, according to a recent report, the amount of money put in by these companies has actually exceeded that invested by banks and other financial institutions.
According to a Bloomberg report, the Silicon valley is exhibiting significant interest in the government and politics. Political lobbying has traditionally been something that banks and other financial institutions took a great interest in — for obvious reasons — however, the trends appear to be changing.
According to reports, the top 5 tech companies in the US, have put in almost twice the money as compared to that invested by the top 5 banks. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft cumulatively spent almost $49 million in lobbying in the year 2015, versus the $19.7 million put in by financial institutions. The reports comes even as the US gears up for presidential elections, where both the contestants have views that are at right angles on many things.
The reasons behind the sudden tech interest in politics are as clear as day. Technology is rapidly changing and evolving. However, the path to introduce many of these technologies — self-driving cars for instance — is not as easy as it seems. The government and regulatory bodies play a very important role in deciding which technology works and which doesn’t for citizens and how — and if — new products and services should be allowed to be tested and launched.
As such, it is in the interest of these companies to have some friends in the high seats of power. And we are not saying that its an entirely bad thing either. Relationships go both way and the fact that the government is on good terms with some of the most influential companies of the world, is probably a great thing. I mean, if you want to block some terrorist accounts, or if you want to get details of a suspect or if you want to implement better technology into your own systems to improve their efficency or find innovative, tech driven solutions to public issues — wouldn’t it be great to be friends with the likes of Google, Microsoft, Facebook and so on?
These companies can also provide the government with huge amounts of data in a very diverse range of areas, data that can help the administration take better decisions and formulate better policies.
The outgoing Obama administration was on pretty amicable terms with entities in the Silicon valley, and there was a lot of coming and going between the valley and the White House. This relationship may perhaps be in part responsible for the US government’s involvement in everything from AI to Machine Learning to setting up colonies on other planets. The administration even saw the post of the Chief Technology Officer of the country set up for the first time in the US.
However, its not all rainbows and sunshine either.
At this point of time, companies have been clashing with the government over a lot of issues — and there is potential for further clashes regardless of which candidate comes to power. While Trump wants to get these corporations to start their manufacturing processes in the US — which they don’t because there is cheaper, skilled labor available overseas — both Trump and Clinton are opposed to trade accords, something that is supported by these tech behemoths. There is also the question of customer privacy versus National Security, that has come to the fore in recent times — illustrated in Apple and FBI’s court battle over unlocking a dead terrorist’s phone.
All their fancy speeches apart, companies are in business to make money, while the government is in office to serve the people — and often, these two agendas can be at odds with each other. A government that is dictated by corporations could be a pretty bad thing you know, because if the main point on the table became making sure that the environment and the laws were good for business — well, lets just say that we don’t want governments run the way companies are.
So yes, a line would certainly need to be drawn and the increasing influence of these entities over governance tempered. The incoming government would have to face the challenge of maintaining friendly relations with corporations, while also making sure that their interests are not considered before that of the people.