Google is spending heavily on lobbying governments and communications staff as part of its strategy to protect its image from allegations of tax avoidance and failure to curb extremist content online.
According to the EU Transparency Register Google spent €4.25m on lobbying Brussels last year and currently has 14 people directly involved in lobbying the EU, nine of whom have clearance to enter the European parliament.
While having lobbyist is not uncommon for big companies, Google’s level of spend far outstrips other brands. By comparison Tesco, one of the UK’s biggest retailers, has one staff member in Brussels and spent €200,000 on lobbying in 2016.
The Times claims Google’s political operations go far beyond the norm given its record of hiring lobbyist connected to the highest levels of government. It had previously employed Rachel Whetstone, the wife of Steve Hilton who was David Cameron’s former director of strategy to serve as its head of communications.
Furthermore, according to research by Transparency International, more than 50% of the company’s most senior EU lobbyists previously worked for the EU, more than double the average for other companies.
The heightened level of spend come at a time when the internet giant has had to contend with three EU investigations, including the recent Google Shopping case which saw it dealt a €2.4bn fine after it was found to have "abused its market dominance as a search engine" by giving a search ranking advantage to its own products.
The other two investigations centre around allegations that it has abused its dominance in online advertising to try to stop retailers advertising elsewhere and examining whether it has manipulated its dominance in mobile operating systems to kill off competition, a crucially important case for Google given it generates around a fifth of its total advertising revenues from Android.
Other legal hurdles thrown at the US company include a formal complaint from New Corporation accusing it of copying content from news websites and using its dominance to promote its own news search results over news media outlets.