Stealthier than Amazon, but similarly disquieting

Should local communities have the right to know before a big tech company moves in? Should they be able to protest before city planners offer those companies millions or even billions of dollars in incentives? Those were the questions raised when Amazon was promised $1.2 billion in subsidies to bring a new headquarters to New York City, and we’re asking them again today — because The Washington Post reports that Google has been using secret shell companies to nab millions in tax breaks as it expands its data centers and offices across the US.

The Post’s investigation starts with a doozy: Google reportedly hid behind the name “Sharka LLC” to win $10 million in tax breaks for a new data center in Midlothian, Texas, by signing both its development agencies and city officials to NDAs that forbid them from revealing that Google was behind the deal. Google also reportedly used “Jet Stream LLC” to quietly purchase the land.

This passage from the Post is so perfect at painting a picture of big company vs. small community that I’m going to quote it in its entirety:

“I’m confident that had the community known this project was under the direction of Google, people would have spoken out, but we were never given the chance to speak,” said Travis Smith, managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, the local paper. “We didn’t know that it was Google until after it passed.”

After the deal went through, Sharka changed its main address to that of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Site work began last fall.

Midlothian, Texas is just one of the locales that the Post highlights in its story. My gut reaction, reading it, was to wonder whether Google decided to publish that blog post last week — the one about how it’s investing $13 billion in America by opening data centers and offices across a wide swath of the US — at least partly so it could get out ahead of this reporting.

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