Thursday 24 January 2019 11:38 am

Big tech firms like Google, Amazon and Facebook spent a record amount on political lobbying last year

Google, Amazon and Facebook's bill for lobbying the US government hit record highs last year, as life under the Trump administration put big tech firms in the spotlight.

Google parent firm Alphabet said it spent $21.2m (£16.3m) on political lobbying costs in the US last year, topping its previous all-time high of $18.2m achieved in 2012. It was the biggest spender in the so-called FAANG technology grouping, which includes Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google.

Amazon was the next largest contender with a record $14.2m spend, up from an earlier high of $13m in 2017. Facebook's costs, meanwhile, reached a new high of $12.6m in 2018.

Google spent $18m on lobbying in 2017 while Facebook spent $11.5m, according to data compiled by the independent Centre for Responsive Politics.

The chief executives of both Google and Facebook testified before US authorities last year, as well as a number of their senior leadership, as their policy on political advertisements, fake news and bipartisanship were questioned. 

Amazon, on the other hand, came under fire for much of 2018 in a personal tirade by US President Donald Trump, as he blamed the e-commerce giant for the struggling revenues of the US Postal Service.

Microsoft was the third biggest spender at $9.5m, up from $8.5m in 2017 but below its 2013 bill of $10.5m. Apple spent $6.6m, falling below its record of $7.2m in 2017.

Alphabet said that new topics added to its discussion list in last year's lobbying efforts included the technology behind its search engine, criminal justice reform and international tax reform. Google is among a number of big tech firms subject to current negotiations surrounding a so-called digital tax, which UK chancellor Philip Hammond promised to press ahead with in October's budget plan. 

Meanwhile Facebook said "election integrity" was a new discussion topic in the fourth quarter. The social media platform has been subject to intense scrutiny by regulators and politicians, after it was revealed that adverts on its site had become a means for distributing fake news and other propaganda during the 2016 EU referendum and the US presidential elections.

Topics of interest to Amazon in 2018 included pushbacks on immigration, data privacy and trade tariffs, as the tech giant relies on all three as a proponent of worldwide e-commerce.

Other top discussions were on healthcare plans, drug prices and food safety. Amazon bought US drug-delivery startup Pill Pack last year, hinting that it might expand into the pharmacy sector, while it runs its own grocery service and acquired ownership of US supermarket chain Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.4bn.