With their brands in tatters and public trust declining, the Big Tech Masters of the Universe are using small businesses to push their agenda in Washington DC, according to a new report from a left-wing think tank.
The tech giants use these small companies to write letters to lawmakers and regulators warning them that regulating Big Tech will hurt small businesses.
Via the Tech Transparency Project:
For a self-described family-style company in Grandview, Missouri, that fixes water heaters, sewer lines, and frozen pipes, Morgan Miller Plumbing has a lot of opinions about the country’s biggest tech firms—and why they shouldn’t face new rules and regulations.
The plumbing company’s CEO wrote to a newspaper warning that if Congress restricts how internet companies collect data, it could “hurt our company and millions more small businesses that use these platforms and tools.” She excoriated Missouri’s attorney general for joining the antitrust lawsuit against Google.
The company even popped up in Facebook’s recent public relations campaign against Apple’s new iPhone privacy update, with founder Jeff Morgan saying the changes would add “insult to injury” by forcing his business to spend more after a tough 2020.
It may seem odd that a business that spends its days repairing kitchen faucets and garbage disposals in the Kansas City area is so devoted to the defense of the major online platforms and willing to wade into the details of internet policy. But it’s not exactly a coincidence.
The plumbing company’s CEO, Stella Crewse, sits on the board of the Connected Commerce Council, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that bills itself as a voice for small business but appears to be little more than a front for the interests of tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, as the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) reported in 2019.
Tech giants use groups like the Connected Commerce Council to cultivate a hand-picked group of small business owners who can amplify their stances on privacy, antitrust, and other hot-button issues—without the industry’s fingerprints on it. The tech companies then point to this seemingly spontaneous grassroots support to push back against accusations that they’ve become monopolies that exercise too much power and stifle competition.
Notably, Big Tech taps many of the same small businesses again and again to advance its agenda. Google, for example, promoted and profiled Morgan Miller Plumbing in a recent campaign touting the benefits of its online tools for small businesses. The profile linked to a joint Google-Connected Commerce Council report about how such tools have become a “digital safety net” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to TTP, the Big Tech companies sometimes use small businesses as proxies in their battles against other tech companies, one example being Facebook’s recent dispute with Apple.
The long-term effectiveness of this strategy remains unclear. Critics derided Facebook’s P.R. blitz against Apple—which cast small businesses, not Facebook, as the primary victim of the iPhone privacy update—as “misleading” and “tone deaf.” And some small businesses are actively opposed to Big Tech. A collection of merchant groups, for example, recently formed a national coalition to advocate for tougher antitrust laws against Amazon.
But the tech giants have so far shown little sign of abandoning their favored small business defense. Google and Amazon, for example, have deployed the tech-regulation-is-bad-for-small-business argument as they push back against antitrust bills making their way through Congress, and the Connected Commerce Council has adopted the sametactic.
As TTP’s research shows, tech-backed groups have been making use of this strategy in numerous policy debates in Washington, the states, and Europe.
In a comment to Breitbart News, a spokesman for the Connected Commerce Council defended his organization’s track record of advocacy.
“Digital tools help small businesses grow and succeed, served as a safety net during the pandemic, and are now powering them through the recovery,” said the spokesman. “The thousands of small businesses that say digital tools are important to them are not lying.”
“Nothing that Tech Transparency wrote changes that and pretending that it does ignores small businesses needs and the harmful effects new digital regulations will have on small businesses.”
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News. He is the author of #DELETED: Big Tech’s Battle to Erase the Trump Movement and Steal The Election.