The latest acquisition for tech companies? Lobbyists

A Lyft car drives next to a taxi on June 12, 2014 in San Francisco, California

Tech companies are growing up. And, like a lot of teenagers, they want more control over how they’re treated. Now, those companies are taking steps to make sure they’re heard.

Last month, drivers for ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft flooded the California Capitol building. They were there to protest a bill that would toughen regulations on their industry. Senator Alex Padilla noted the discussion was one that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago.

“The wonderful challenge that we have on complex issues like this is, in large part, driven by technology and innovation and things that 50 years ago people wouldn’t have imagined, forcing important public policy questions,” Padilla said.

Now tech companies want to influence how these questions are answered.

Robert Callahan is the Executive Director of the California branch of the Internet Association. That’s a relatively new lobbying group that represents many large tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Twitter, Yahoo, Yelp, Uber and Lyft.   

The Association also lobbies on issues at the federal level. Callahan said there’s plenty to work on, like net neutrality and patent reform.

“But also just issues that you would never have thought about,” he said. “Like, what are the decedent rights to a social media account after the account holder passes away?”

But as tech companies start to pay expensive lobbyists, some are asking what that will ultimately cost their customers.

Timothy Karr is with Free Press, a group that works for what it calls a “free and open Internet.”  

“You know, in general, I don’t think corporate lobbyists are serving the interest of consumers,” Karr said.

He’s especially concerned with how media use is being regulated.

“People are listening to music, they are sharing video files. And because it’s become much more prominent in the way people use, share, and consume media, it also has a much higher profile in policy discussions,” he said.

And the growing clout of tech companies means they’ll likely have a larger role in future legislative discussions.

About the author

Katie Orr is the state government reporter for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, CA.

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