The Web of Web Lobbying

The Wall Street Journal reported on a battle developing between privacy advocates and internet companies concerning AB 1291, a transparency measure that is in part based upon some of my privacy research:

The industry backlash is against the “Right to Know Act,” a bill introduced in February by Bonnie Lowenthal, a Democratic assemblywoman from Long Beach. It would make Internet companies, upon request, share with Californians personal information they have collected—including buying habits, physical location and sexual orientation—and what they have passed on to third parties such as marketing companies, app makers and other companies that collect and sell data.

Instead of discussing the merits of the bill, here I want to show an aspect of industry association lobbying. As noted previously, these groups are useful to companies for several reasons: they can be used to “launder” policy, they can air controversial views without attribution to any one company, they can help hide companies advocacy when it appears to conflict with previous commitments, and they defray critical reporting. They also amplify power, because they place legislators in a house of mirrors–trade groups allow companies to mask the provenance of their advocacy and to multiply it. This creates a kind of echo chamber for companies.

The Journal’s Vauhini Vara and Geoffrey Fowler reported:

The coalition includes such trade groups as the Internet Alliance, TechNet and TechAmerica, all of which represent major Internet companies

This past week, Will Gonzalez, a Facebook lobbyist based in Sacramento, aired concerns in a meeting about how the bill would hurt Facebook’s business, according to a legislative aide. Mr. Gonzalez didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Representatives for Facebook and Google declined to comment on the bill.

Vara and Fowler are on the right path–break through these groups and talk to their principals about their stance on the bill. Facebook and Google won’t comment to the Journal, I imagine, because AB 1291 is fundamentally a transparency measure. Opposition to it creates some dissonance with these companies’ rational choice/transparency/openness rhetoric.

But back to my point–the trade groups help companies hide their advocacy positions, and amplify them. Check out my poor man’s version of the web of web advocacy below.

This is the letterhead of the opposition letter submitted by tech companies against California's AB 1291.

This is the letterhead of the opposition letter submitted by tech companies against California’s AB 1291.