Google, Facebook spend big on US lobbying amid policy battles

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has said the company backs the idea of national privacy legislation. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 January 2019
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Google, Facebook spend big on US lobbying amid policy battles

  • Google disclosed in a quarterly filing on Tuesday that it spent a company-record $21.2 million on lobbying the US government in 2018
  • Facebook Inc. disclosed that it also spent more on government lobbying in 2018 than it ever had before at $12.62 million

SAN FRANCISCO: Alphabet Inc’s Google disclosed in a quarterly filing on Tuesday that it spent a company-record $21.2 million on lobbying the US government in 2018, topping its previous high of $18.22 million in 2012, as the search engine operator fights wide-ranging scrutiny into its practices.
In its filing to Congress on Tuesday, Facebook Inc. disclosed that it also spent more on government lobbying in 2018 than it ever had before at $12.62 million. That was up from $11.51 million a year ago, according to tracking by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Google’s spent $18.04 million on lobbying in 2017, according to the center’s data.
Google and Facebook declined to comment beyond their filings.
US lawmakers and regulators have weighed new privacy and antitrust rules to rein in the power of large Internet service providers such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.com Inc. Regulatory backlash in the United States, as well as Europe and Asia, is near the top of the list of concerns for technology investors, according to financial analysts.
Microsoft Corp. spent $9.52 million on lobbying in 2018, according to its disclosure on Tuesday, up from $8.5 million in 2017 but below its $10.5 million tab in 2013.
Apple Inc. spent $6.62 million last year, compared to its record of $7.15 million in 2017, according to center data going back to 1998.
Apple and Microsoft did not respond to requests to comment. A filing from Amazon was expected later on Tuesday.
Google disclosed that new discussion topics with regulators in the fourth quarter included its search technology, criminal justice reform and international tax reform. The company is perennially among the top spenders on lobbying in Washington along with a few cable operators, defense contractors and health care firms.
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai, who testified in December before a US House of Representatives panel for the first time, has said the company backs the idea of national privacy legislation. But he has contested accusations of the company having a political bias in its search results and of stifling competition.
Susan Molinari, Google’s top US public policy official, stepped down to take on an advisory role this month.
Facebook said discussing “election integrity” with national security officials was among its new lobbying areas in the fourth quarter. The filing said the company continued to lobby the Federal Trade Commission, which is investigating its data security practices.


Facebook targets fake news in Arabic language media

Updated 19 February 2019
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Facebook targets fake news in Arabic language media

  • Social media giant reveals plans to roll out further initiatives across the Arab world
  • “We want to empower people to decide what to read, trust and share”

LONDON: Facebook has again found itself under scrutiny amid global efforts to stamp out fake news circulating on social media sites. Nashwa Aly, Facebook’s head of public policy for the Middle East and North Africa, spoke to Arab News about the company’s new Arabic-language fact-checking service.
Q: Has the fact-checking service in Arabic already started? If so, are there any results as to how many articles are being flagged as false?
A: The third-party fact-checking in Arabic rolls out as of this month, so still no results to share yet. We recognize the implications of false news on Facebook and we are committed to doing a better job to fight it. More than 181 million people use Facebook every month across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), so this is a responsibility that we take very seriously, and we’re excited to see through the this launch in partnership with AFP MENA. 
How many people will be working on it and what kind of volume of false stories do you expect to identify daily?
It varies by country, but AFP draws on the resources of multiple local bureaus, as well as centralized Arabic-speaking fact-checkers, to fact-check content.
Why did Facebook choose to enter into this initiative? Is the fake news problem any worse in Arabic compared with other languages? Are there any specific issues in challenging this problem in Arabic compared with other languages?
This expansion with AFP, with whom we already have successful fact-checking partnerships across the Latin American and Asia Pacific regions, is a step forward in our efforts to combat Arabic-language misinformation, and we will continue to take steps to expand our efforts globally this year. This initiative is particularly important across MENA, given that misinformation is a major concern in the region.
The present challenges do not necessarily stem from the Arabic language. However, there are some challenges that can arise, such as how to treat opinion and satire. We strongly believe that people should be able to debate different ideas, even controversial ones. We also recognize that there can be a fine line between misinformation and satire or opinion. This can make it more difficult for fact-checkers to assess whether an article should be rated as “false” or left alone.
It appears from the announcement that Facebook will not be actively removing “fake news” links identified under this initiative with AFP. Is that right, and if so, do you think the initiative goes far enough?
The way this will work is that when fact-checkers rate a story as false, we significantly reduce its distribution in News Feed — dropping future views on average by more than
80 percent. Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news will also see their distribution reduced, and their ability to monetize and advertise removed.
We also want to empower people to decide what to read, trust, and share. When third-party fact-checkers write articles about a news story, we show them in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. We also send people and Page Admins notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that has been determined to be false.
Finally, to give people more control, we encourage them to tell us when they see false news. Feedback from our community is one of the various signals that we use to identify potential hoaxes. 
Facebook also entered into an initiative with the UAE National Media Council to fight fake news. Is it looking to any other agreements in this field regionally, especially in Saudi Arabia?
The partnership with the UAE National Media Council and the launch of third-party fact-checking in Arabic, in partnership with AFP MENA are both key steps in our efforts against false news but are not nearly done yet. We plan to continue to take steps to expand our efforts this year both globally and regionally.