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10 years ago, when asked the role of technology companies in important political decisions, most Americans would have the opinion that they really ought not to have a role. In today’s society, however, tech giants wield a tremendous amount of power in many aspects of political decision making. Take the sudden defeat of SOPA and PIPA, the legislation regarding privacy and intellectual property, for example. Or, observe the drastic influence that social media has had on elections and social movements across the world. Even a quick glance at Google’s relations with China shows that these technology companies are increasingly involved in politics both domestically and internationally.

Google and Facebook, most notably, have embraced their roles as political influences. Last year Google spent $16 billion on lobbying, doubling the second highest technology company’s spending. Facebook has only had a presence in lobbying efforts for 4 years, but is already the 5th highest spender on Capitol Hill.

What does that mean in terms of policy? And who are the winners and losers? These are questions whose answers are not immediately clear. One theory is that the increase in lobbying is leading to companies being able to buy loopholes and favors in regulatory frameworks. A deregulatory approach is necessary to create an even playing field for all technology companies.

Even proposed solutions are unclear as to whether they would improve or worsen competitive market conditions in the technology sector. For example, some advocate for an auction-based system wherein spectrum allocation is granted to the highest bidder, therefore taking the favoritism aspect out of the equation. Others argue that the inherent advantage that major wireless companies have make this an unfair system to smaller players. An unlicensed model, such as that which WiFi uses, would create a better business environment.

Now, technology companies have evolved past just decisions involving their market into broader policy decisions. Immigration legislation is now a major focus of the tech lobby’s influence, as they fight for expansion of green cards and visas for foreign workers in the technology sector. This spending on immigration policy joins the existing influence on issues such as tax policy, online privacy, and cyber security.

Some argue that technology companies, since they are immediately serving the public, are indirectly fighting for what the average Americans want to see in policy. Others worry that the increased presence in D.C. will create social media and technology companies that can create loose regulations allowing them to function in the marketplace however way they please. This could lead to privacy concerns as well as pricing issues down the road.

For the younger generation, technology’s influence in the world may not seem surprising. But the effects of this new found power have yet to be fully realized. Only time will tell what effect tech giants will have on our nation’s policy.

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