Your dating, travel or dining app now might have a lobbyist

Small firms seek influence, and a share of coronavirus relief

Makers of apps such as Kayak are forming a lobbying coalition.  (S3studio/Getty Images file photo)
Makers of apps such as Kayak are forming a lobbying coalition. (S3studio/Getty Images file photo)
Posted April 29, 2020 at 1:30pm

It used to be there was an app for that — well, now there’s a new lobbying coalition for the apps.

The new group representing small and medium tech companies, dubbed the App Coalition, is coming online Wednesday as part of an effort to distinguish the lobbying messages of the smaller players from the biggest tech companies when it comes to government relief for COVID-19, privacy and data security matters and other policy debates on Capitol Hill and within the executive branch.

The effort was already underway before the coronavirus pandemic put special scrutiny on technological applications that assist in such areas as remote work and distance teaching, said lobbyists and company executives behind the coalition.

“It was time to stand up a new technology lobbying organization, and one that creates space for smaller companies, independent companies, medium-sized publicly traded companies to talk about their issues,” said Eric Silverberg, CEO of Perry Street Software, a founding member of the coalition. “I fully expect this coalition to become one of the biggest and most significant tech lobbying and advocacy organizations in D.C. over the next 12 months.”  

Silverberg, whose company produces LGBT dating apps, said the idea behind the App Coalition has been in the works for about nine months, but the coronavirus crisis has become a top policy priority for the organization. It will press lawmakers to provide relief for technology companies, including those that receive significant funding from venture capital firms, Silverberg said, something that previous relief bills have limited.

“It started as a discussion of policy issues, but then with coronavirus, there was a very clear indication from all our members, as they were seeing people in isolation and quarantine were more heavily engaged in the app economy,” said Michael Drobac, a senior adviser with McGuireWoods Consulting, who is helping run the coalition. “Now we’re in a position where a majority of Americans are using these apps. This is the economy that people are using. This is front and center.”

McGuireWoods Consulting is managing the effort. Silverberg said he expects the coalition to hire full-time staff in the coming months if additional members sign on. Drobac declined to offer an estimate for the coalition’s starting budget.

Other founding members in the coalition include travel and dining apps Booking.com, Priceline, Kayak and Open Table; email app Blix/Blue Mail; and social networking app Fritzy.

Silverberg and others behind the App Coalition said that even with numerous technology lobbying groups, including the Internet Association, already in existence, they wanted another entity focused on smaller players and not the tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

“Most importantly, we’re creating a space for dialog and discussion that isn’t going to be focused on the issues that affect the major tech platforms; by virtue of their size and scale, when one of these biggest walks into a room, the center of gravity moves to their side,” Silverberg said.

The biggest tech companies spend heavily on federal lobbying. Facebook, for example, reported spending $5.3 million on its federal lobbying efforts during the first three months of the year.

Perry Street Software, Silverberg’s company, disclosed spending $60,000 during that same period in fees to McGuireWoods Consulting, according to recently disclosures.

The creation of the App Coalition reflects how digital consumers interface with technology, spending 69 percent of their time on apps using smartphones or tablets, according to data from the group.

“It’s clear that when we talk about software and technology in 2020, we are talking about apps,” Silverberg said. “But when policymakers and regulators are thinking about technology, they’re not necessarily thinking of apps. Hopefully, they’ve moved on from a ‘series of tubes,’” he added, referring to a now infamous quote by the late Alaska GOP Sen. Ted Stevens, who was trying to describe the internet.    

The launch of the new group also speaks to the policy fissures among technology companies, especially when it comes to data security and privacy matters.

The group is planning a digital summit in June that would include member companies, prospective members and lawmakers, among others.

“There is really not a voice that represents independent apps,” said Greg Guice, a senior vice president at McGuireWoods Consulting, who serves as executive director of the App Coalition.

Added Drobac about the small companies’ frustration: “A few of the big executives for the big companies guide the conversation, and they’re always invited to the big hearings.”

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