The Big Tech Lobbying series uses data to help readers understand the enormous lobbying power Big Tech has over policymaking in the US, UK and EU. Stories around lobbying and “sleaze” have dominated the UK news over the past two years, so we wanted to shed light on increasingly sophisticated methods Big Tech uses to wield influence, beyond those we often hear about.
The pieces in the series gained wide recognition from academics, those working in tech policy, politicians and activists, and sparked debate on the transparency laws required around declaring lobbying and funding from Big Tech.
We used and aggregated data from multiple public data sources, including OpenSecrets, LobbyFacts.eu, the Corporate Europe Observatory, the EU transparency register and filings from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
We manually combed through annual reports and press releases from companies and universities and performed text mining on the records of EU lobbying meetings, which are stored in free text. Some of the information was requested via Freedom of Information requests (FOI).
We built the graphics using Svelte and Layercake (d3.js). The script was generated by archieML, parsed from a Google Docs file.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Although universities in the UK are bound by FOI rules, this is not true across all of Europe. We had to seek advice from experts in transparency in different countries across Europe to file our requests. In several cases, we were stonewalled or misled by academic institutions. We ended up scouring financial disclosures and annual reports manually to try and piece together the data, then filed very specific Right of Reply requests on those findings.
What can others learn from this project?
The project advanced the movement towards Big Tech transparency, particularly in academia, a topic which has been scrutinised in the US but far less so in the UK and EU. It shed light on the sophisticated lobbying practices used by Big Tech in legislation, think tanks and academia, while also drawing attention to the gaps in our investigation — the murkiest areas of the Big Tech lobbying web. The project prompted as many questions as it answered, and we hope it assisted in creating a roadmap for ourselves and other journalists to keep digging.