Benner on Tech: A Gender Suit for Twitter

Katie Benner is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about technology, innovation, and the cult and culture of Silicon Valley. She lives in San Francisco.
Read More.
a | A

People Are Talking About…

First Kleiner Perkins. Then Facebook. Now Twitter.

A gender discrimination lawsuit filed against Twitter -- following similar, high-profile suits against Kleiner Perkins and Facebook -- may have the most potential to change the fortunes of women in technology simply because it’s a proposed class action lawsuit.

This, of course, presupposes that the suit filed last week by ex-Twitter engineer Tina Huang picks up steam and fellow plaintiffs. It also presupposes that the case ends in a big settlement for the (as yet to materialize) plaintiffs or a court victory.

Huang alleges that Twitter has no formal procedure around promotions or job openings, and that this opaque process favors men.

"Ms. Huang resigned voluntarily from Twitter, after our leadership tried to persuade her to stay. She was not fired," said a Twitter spokesman. "Twitter is deeply committed to a diverse and supportive workplace, and we believe the facts will show Ms. Huang was treated fairly."

One reason class action suits are so powerful is because it’s hard to chalk the allegations of a big group of people up to a single person's personal issues at work. As we’ve seen in the Pao case, Kleiner Perkins has argued, often effectively, that Pao simply didn’t get along with her co-workers. The firm has muddied the waters considerably, making it hard to decide whether Pao failed to thrive at Kleiner because she was discriminated against or because she was bad at the politics necessary to survive in a hyper-competitive workplace.

Class action suits also send the sort of expensive message that gets the attention of human resources departments, even those that are inclined to look the other way when bad things happen.

I mentioned last week that the lawsuits against Kleiner and Facebook are interesting, but that I don’t think they alone will do much to positively change the way that women are regarded in Silicon Valley. The Twitter suit may be have more potential. But even if the Twitter suit fizzles out, there’s momentum now for women to step forward and fight in court against discrimination -- and truly hold the tech industry to account.

** Related: Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins: The judge has ruled that Pao can pursue punitive damages on top of the $16 million she’s asking for in lost wages. After a break today, the case picks up tomorrow with closing arguments.

Ventureland

Uber’s partnership with the United Nations to get more women drivers on the platform hit a setback when the UN backpedaled on the partnership amid pressure from labor unions, Bloomberg reports. The company struck an investment and marketing deal with the Times of India to support the company’s Indian expansion. Meanwhile, India’s cab hailing service Ola is getting into the food delivery game, reports the Economic TimesForbes looks at Uber’s uphill battle in China.

Meerkat, along with YouNow and soon-to-be-launched products from Periscope, have made live streaming video a hot topic. The Verge explains why these companies are exploding now. Parsons professor Dave Carroll explores the possibility that these apps could create another digital divide.

Mutual funds have taken to venture investing, and the New York Times says they may be going beyond their mandate.

The bitcoin ecosystem, mapped by Business Insider.

The mystery Tweeter known as Startup L. Jackson has some advice for startups in his “An Open Letter to YC Founders on Demo Day Eve”: raise money, but not too much; hire your VCs like employees; and have a Plan B. Logical stuff, but easy to forget in these heady times.

People and Personnel Moves

Cindy Cohn, who will become head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in April, talkd to the San Jose Mercury News about how Silicon Valley is standing up to the government.

Companies

Alibaba has invested in Jerusalem Venture Partners, an Israeli venture fund, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Amazon has a product for those things that only humans can do, and it pays pennies (up to a dollar) for each completed task. The New Yorker takes a look at the company’s Mechanical Turk service.

Apple executives want you to forget about Walter Isaacson’s best-selling – and unvarnished – biography about Steve Jobs and use the more adulatory, forthcoming book called “Becoming Steve Jobs” as your Jobs biography of choice, reports the New York Times. ABC News went inside the secret gym the company set up to test the Apple Watch.

Facebook is working on a phone app for Android, Android Police reports.

Google may have avoided an FTC probe, but the Wall Street Journal says it faces scrutiny in Europe, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Taiwan and India. The company is playing with so-called "on-body detection" to lock your phone when it senses it’s not in your hand or pocket, reports Android police. Eric Schmidt tells the Wall Street Journal that Glass isn’t dead.

Security Watch

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 (CISA) was advanced to the Senate floor by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls the bill “one of the worst yet” because the information sharing component of the legislation is set up so that companies funnel information to the government without much benefit to participants.

Media Files

Spotify is getting pressure from Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company, to change the terms of its free service, reports the Financial Times.

The New York Times derived more than 70 percent of its revenue from print last year, and other tidbits on the “Curious (and vital) Power of Print,” from public editor Margaret Sullivan.

News and Notes

Foxconn could work with Japans’s Sharp on investment and partnership opportunities, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Polaroid is desperate to remake itself, but the New York Times says that time is running short.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net