Mark Di Stefano, reporting for The Information (paywalled): A few years back, two Brussels-based lobbyists from midsize tech companies were out for drinks, and in the course of the conversation they realized they had a common problem. Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook were sucking all of the oxygen out of European debates about regulating the internet, leaving out the voices of smaller companies — despite the fact that those policies can have a very different impact on them. The European lobbyists and policy officers from other companies — a motley array that included Mozilla, Stripe, Transferwise, Etsy, Dropbox and Spotify — began meeting regularly in Brussels, often in bars and restaurants, to share their experiences, according to two people familiar with the matter. Some of them jokingly referred to the outings, which haven’t been previously reported, as “whine and dines.” The companies, which have continued to gather during the pandemic over video calls, even have a name for their informal network, the two people said: the challenger group. “It was really soothing to meet up with other companies doing the same thing,” Raegan MacDonald, policy chief of Mozilla, said during an interview with The Information. “We finally said, let’s do stuff together…. The work together has been helpful and fruitful, not just cathartic.” While members of the group won’t say much about what that “stuff” is exactly, one of their priorities is having a voice in the upcoming overhaul of internet regulations in Europe, the biggest since the early 2000s. The European Commission — the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for its legislation and policies — plans to release the first drafts of this overhaul in the coming weeks, which will introduce sweeping new powers for competition regulators to intervene in tech markets.
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