Public Seminar: Big Tech May Be Closer to Home Than You Know

October 1, 2020 Anti-Monopoly Policies & EnforcementOp-edTech

In May, 2020, the city of Gallatin, Tennessee, voted to provide nearly $20 million in tax breaks to an entity called “Project Woolhawk” that proposed building a data center in the area. Local economic development officials refused to confirm who or what was behind that name, only that it was a major tech company: they had signed a non-disclosure agreement that precluded them from identifying the corporation publicly. Even as the Gallatin city council voted to grant taxpayer resources to this company, no public official would say what “Project Woolhawk” was.

It was Facebook.

In August, the social networking giant was formally announced as the beneficiary of Gallatin’s tax dollars. But don’t expect more information any time soon. Facebook’s identity was not only concealed by local officials during the planning of the project, but the agreement officials struck with the company also requires the city to alert Facebook any time someone files a public-records request related to the data center project.

A company that claims to be all about community and free expression is remarkably opaque in its business dealings. Cloak-and-dagger tactics are standard operating procedure when Facebook gets involved with local communities. While Facebook’s global proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories and international election meddling may get more attention from the United States Congress, the corporation also creates less well-documented harm much closer to home. Along with Google, Facebook has made an art of extracting local resources to fuel its corporate dominance, while blocking forms of democratic accountability so that local voters can’t voice their displeasure.