Amazon Latest to Ditch Data Conference to Boycott Indiana

IndyBigData Is Feeling Backlash Against Law Some Say Allows for Legal Discrimination

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An Amazon distribution center in the U.S.
An Amazon distribution center in the U.S. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
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Its slogan may be "Mining Big Data for Big Profits," but if the pressure to boycott Indiana continues gaining steam, the Indy Big Data conference might have trouble turning its own profit. The conference is set to be held next month in Indianapolis at the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Now, along with several other data-industry firms, Amazon won't be there. "We are not participating in the conference," a spokeswoman told Ad Age. According to the event site, AWS Database Services Business Development Manager Greg Khairallah, is set to speak about "Agile Big Data Analytics powered by Amazon Web Services."

The spokeswoman continued, "Nobody will present. Our speaker's photo will be gone by the end of the day. They are fielding multiple requests."

Ever since Indiana passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allows businesses to refuse services to gay people on religious grounds or refuse to offer health insurance coverage for things like birth control, a nationwide protest against the legislation has been brewing.

Governors of New York, Connecticut and Washington said they would ban state-funded travel of state employees to Indiana. Mayors of New York, San Francisco and Seattle said the same of city-paid travel to Indy.

It's doubtful, of course, that many of those government employees affected had actually planned to visit Indiana, other than maybe for a personal NCAA Final Four game trip.

Some boycotters are putting their money where their mouths are in a way that could actually have an impact, however. Several companies have announced they will boycott the Indy Big Data Conference. Data analytics software makers Cloudera and Pivotal, cloud computing firm EMC Corporation and data analytics firm Platfora have all ducked out of the event.

Companies including Salesforce said they'll end employee business travel to the state as a result of the law. One has to wonder whether the backlash would have manifested in such sanctions were it against places like California, New York and Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Indy Big Data host Conference Ventures, an Indianapolis company, is hoping this situation doesn't kill its May 7 event. The event firm called for "an immediate correction to the law," in a March 30 tweet. The company didn't respond to a request to comment.

If this boycott is more than grandstanding, and actually takes hold, data tech and ad services business in Indiana could bear the brunt, too. Cloud data firm Rook Security, branding agency TrendyMinds, online form and data management company Formstack and branding and PR agency Willow Marketing Management are just a few Indiana companies that might be worried about the boycott winds blowing their way.

What could have a truly meaningful, immediate effect? If the NCAA pulled the April 4 and 6 Final Four games from Lucas Oil Stadium, as talking heads like Keith Olbermann have called for. But, despite the fact that NCAA President Mark Emmert has expressed concern over the law, don't expect him to put the ticket sales and TV rights money NCAA stands to make -- the organization earned 84% of its $912.8 million in revenue last year from March Madness -- where his mouth is.