Thursday, October 21, 2021

Can you lobby hard enough to win the next big issue? Probably.

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In a world where user consent for apps is frequently required, where users come under constant attack by privacy hawks and competitors, and where tech companies often rely on their public image to build a loyal following, one company has weathered the storm of change and is well positioned to take advantage of any controversies that follow.

Microsoft.

The company’s value has been sliced and diced in recent years as it has partnered with enterprises and cemented its monopoly over personal computing. It has taken the antitrust backlash of its past to heart, built public opinion against it in Europe and greatly expanded its cloud computing business, which many speculate will see it merge with Amazon when its pending purchase of cloud service rival LinkedIn is finalized.

But you shouldn’t expect antitrust concerns to be given the side-eye from the company’s U.S. lobbying arm, which recently launched an effort to shed light on the threats tech companies face as the competitive landscape shifts from desktop software to the platforms these companies build themselves.

The corporate lobbying group most likely to hear your plea to “switch” is Microsoft. Created in 2006 with a $1 billion price tag, it quickly grew into one of the biggest in the U.S. and raised close to $13 billion last year.

In response to requests from Gizmodo and TechCrunch for information about the organization’s IRS filings, spokeswoman Karen Schulz responded with a letter highlighting the company’s expansive education and outreach efforts.

“Microsoft does not currently disclose our lobbying expenditures, but is committed to helping shape government policy to advance our mission of empowering people and businesses around the world through technology,” she wrote.

Here are just a few of the facets of Microsoft’s digital lobbying efforts:

Xbox LIVE

The Xbox LIVE social network is one of the company’s major sources of profit — Microsoft spun it out into a separate business a few years ago — and the tracking of account data helps the company gather more data about the interests of its user base to shape its experiences.

Odds are Microsoft’s armada of lobbyists will keep pushing back against attempts by competitors, government regulators and individual users to restrict the type of advertising it can target on its platforms.

Windows 10

The company saw its market share in personal computing collapse as sales of personal computers fell and consumers flocked to mobile and tablets. It saw this and announced it would phase out its Windows 10 operating system in favor of a less-annoying version known as Windows 11. Microsoft is hoping the new version will win back users.

Windows 10 Cloud

Like the “Microsoft Edge” browser and the Microsoft “My Health” app — the latter of which built up a large health-conscience user base on the premise that an app could help people manage their own health more effectively — Microsoft is hoping its platform for businesses and consumers can become a way for users to manage their digital lives and serve as a bridge between themselves and the services they use to make personal or business decisions.

Last month, the company announced it was building an app known as “Azure Government,” an effort to compete directly with Google’s competitive “cloud” service by aiming to provide a “one-stop shop” where users could conduct all of their government and proprietary-information research through Microsoft’s service.

Microsoft’s lobbying team is armed with nigh-invincibility. It has received a total of $20.78 million in financial support from companies, unions and organizations over the past three years, which not only gives it access to the moneyed interests that shape government policy, but also the ability to influence them as their opinions change over time.

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