IndyBigData, a big data conference set for May 7, has lost sponsors over the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- which allows businesses to decline to serve people based on sexuality and other traits. Cloudera, EMC and Salesforce.com have all pulled out of the event, according to Tweets from company representatives.

The tweets included these messages:

  • Cloudera VP of Marketing Alan Saldich: "Following lead of @benioff @cloudera is pulling out of IndyBigData data because of #Indiana "religious freedom" law."
  • EMC President Jeremy Burton: "We intend to take a stand against this discrimination by not attending IndyBigData later this month."
  • Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff: "We are forced to dramatically reduce our investment in IN based on our employee's & customer's outrage over the Religious Freedom Restoration Bill."

The controversy involves Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which could allow businesses to deny service to gay customers, according to critics of the law. The law is set to go into effect on July 1. Indiana Governor Mike Pence has been "scorched" by the "fast-spreading political firestorm" around the act, according to the Indy Star newspaper.

National Issue

A lengthy list of companies  -- from multiple industries -- have condemned RFRA and are vowing to reduce or eliminate business activities in Indiana.

Connecting the dots and drawing the bigger picture, Apple CEO Tim Cook believes "something very dangerous is happening in states across the country." In a Washington Post OpEd piece, he says "there are nearly 100 bills designed to enshrine discrimination in state law." He called on readers and businesses to take a stand against such discrimination, and stated that Apple is open to all customers.

Local Impact

Back in Indiana, local businesses such as Indianapolis-based Conference Ventures -- host of IndyBigData -- could potentially suffer as businesses push back against the RFRA act. Although Conference Ventures is not affiliated with the RFRA legislation, the company's big data conference is now caught in the storm based purely on the event's location -- the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium.

Several major vendors -- including Amazon Web Services and Information Builders -- are still listed as conference sponsors as of mid-day March 30. But exits by Cloudera, EMC and Salesforce.com could pressure more companies to drop out of the event. Information Management has reached out to the conference organization along with AWS and Information Builders for comment on the event's status and vendor participation status. We did not receive a reply as of this story's publication time.

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