AOL picks new head lobbyist

AOL has promoted Leigh Freund, a longtime company attorney, to be the new head of its global lobbying operations, The Hill has learned. 

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Freund has been with AOL for almost 10 years, most recently as the vice president and chief counsel for its advertising team. She has also worked for Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), now the chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

She will replace Tekedra Mawakana, who left AOL in April after 13 years with the company to become Yahoo’s head of global public policy. 

AOL has a modest presence in Washington compared to Internet giants like Google and Facebook. The company, which began lobbying in Washington in 2010, spent only $295,720 on lobbying last year, according to disclosure records. 

In an interview, Freund said she expects to focus on patent issues, privacy regulations and Internet access.

AOL gains much of its revenue from online advertising on its websites, such as the Huffington Post, and its Patch network of local news sites. 

Some lawmakers are pushing legislation to limit the ability of online advertisers to track users and target ads based on their browsing history.

Voluntary talks between advertisers and privacy groups to create a tool to allow users to opt out of online tracking have made little progress in over two years. 

Freund said AOL is "committed to making that self-regulatory model ... work."

She said she will also be focused on pushing policies that expand access to high-speed Internet so more users can reach AOL's websites. 

AOL's dial-up Internet service, its first business, still has more than two million subscribers. Freund denied that there's tension between preserving the dial-up business and promoting faster technologies from other companies. 

"We have an important continuing stake in making sure that that business flows freely and gives accessibility to those users in the United States that are not on broadband," she said. "But I don't think it's necessarily a conflict with our broader hope to make the Internet more accessible around the globe."