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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Tech workers claimed caste bias. Now California could make it illegal.

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

Hello everyone, Nitasha Tiku here. I’m the tech culture reporter for The Post in San Francisco. You can reach me at:

Below: TikTok fights to pacify Capitol Hill, and an Silicon Valley Bank hearing is announced. First:

Tech workers claimed caste bias. Now California could make it illegal.

California state Sen. Aisha Wahab (D) will introduce a new bill Wednesday aiming to add caste as a protected category to state law, making discrimination against a person based on their caste explicitly illegal. 

The move follows efforts by tech workers, first reported in The Washington Post, to highlight bias they faced within U.S. tech companies based on caste, a system of social hierarchy that dictates a person’s standing at birth. 

In Silicon Valley, where a significant portion of employees and contractors are South Asian, workers have grown increasingly vocal about caste discrimination in recent years. They’ve been buoyed by Equality Labs, a nonprofit group advocating for Dalits, members of the lowest-ranked caste formerly referred to as “untouchables.”

Though caste has its roots in Hinduism in India, it has proliferated to other religions and across South Asia. In the United States, some South Asians say they face caste bias at work, school and places of worship from other members of the diaspora.

Wahab is spearheading the bill because caste bias affects her constituents, she said, pointing to high-profile instances that originated in her district, which includes parts of Silicon Valley and the East Bay.  

The bill follows efforts by other institutions to identify and  address caste bias in existing policies.

California State University added caste to its anti-discrimination policy after allegations of caste bias at its East Bay location, Wahab said. And California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a landmark lawsuit against Cisco alleging caste discrimination at the company’s headquarters in San Jose. 

But early policy efforts to enshrine caste as a protected category within the United States have been met with social media attacks and lawsuits. After Seattle, Washington became the first city to ban caste discrimination in February, Indian American Ohio state Sen. Niraj Antani (R) condemned the ordinance as “Hindu-phobic.” In October, two Hindu professors filed a lawsuit against Cal State for adding caste to its anti-discrimination policy. 

The professors were represented by the Hindu American Foundation, a D.C.-based group that has helped coordinate pushback against efforts to raise awareness around caste, which HAF says unfairly targets Hinduism. 

A group of 30 female engineers who worked at Google, Apple, Microsoft and other tech companies shared a statement with The Post in 2020 about caste bias they faced in the U.S. tech sector. The Post broke the story in June that a senior manager in Google News, Tanuja Gupta, resigned after Google canceled a talk about caste discrimination by Equality Labs founder and executive director, Thenmozhi Soundararajan.

Soundararajan had already delivered a similar talk at an earlier Google conference, as well as for other tech companies. But after backlash from some South Asian employees, who claimed reverse discrimination and said supporting Dalit rights was “Hindu-phobic,” Google canceled the talk. 

Both Gupta and Soundararajan advocated for the bill and will join Wahab at a news conference Wednesday in Sacramento. Soundararajan told The Post, pushing for caste to be defined as a protected category, which workers have said is necessary, has been a way for her to “turn pain into power,” after the incident with Google.

The bill is also supported by a broad coalition that includes a newly public group called Tech Workers for Caste Equity, which describes itself as an interfaith, multiracial, inter-caste collective dedicated to class equity. 

Even though caste is already implicitly covered by existing statutes, as the DFEH argued in its case against Cisco, American employers may be confused or choose to ignore caste bias because it is happening within an ethnic group.

The nuances of caste discrimination may not be widely understood or mainstream, but as California grows increasingly diverse, its policies need to stretch out and protect more people, Wahab said.

Wahab said that as an Afghan American woman, she is particularly sensitive to the way non-Christian faiths are depicted, perceived and discussed. However, she emphasized, “This has nothing to do with religion.” 

“I am not legislating anyone’s personal practice of their faith or what happens in their places of worship,” she said. “This is about ensuring caste discrimination does not further entrench itself in our workplaces and education system.” 

Our top tabs

TikTok mounts assertive lobbying campaign to appease lawmakers ahead of House hearing

TikTok in recent months has launched a massive lobbying campaign to push back against bipartisan concerns over the Chinese-linked app’s data security practices and its effects on children’s mental health ahead of a grilling of its CEO tomorrow, Cat Zakrzewski and Cristiano Lima report.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has been meeting one-on-one with lawmakers ahead of his Thursday testimony as the company rolls out various policy changes to temper congressional concerns over the app, including its alleged links to the Chinese government.

Lawmakers are skeptical about TikTok’s ability to assuage fears of its links to parent company ByteDance, based in Beijing. "House Energy and Commerce Committee aides, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity to preview the panel’s hearing, said they do not expect anything that Chew might say in his testimony to convince lawmakers that Project Texas would sufficiently address their national security fears," Cat and Cristiano write.

The company has been buying up ad campaigns in Washington to show its commitment to data privacy. It is also running video ad campaigns with the slogan #TikTokSparksGood. ByteDance spent $5.3 million on lobbying Washington last year, an annual record for the company, according to an analysis by the nonprofit OpenSecrets.

Senate committee to hold hearing on SVB collapse

The Senate Banking Committee will hold a March 28 hearing to examine the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, Moira Warburton from Reuters reports, citing a press release from committee chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chair Martin Gruenberg, Federal Reserve official Michael Barr and Treasury Department undersecretary Nellie Liang will testify, Warburton writes from the release.

“It is critical that we get to the bottom of how Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank collapsed so that we can maintain a strong banking system, protect Americans’ hard-earned money, and hold those responsible accountable, including the CEOs,” the senator said. Last week, Brown said new regulatory actions against the banking industry could be initiated. 

The collapse of SVB has cascaded into the tech sector and financial markets. Regulators earlier this month moved to protect the bank’s assets as the United States seeks to avoid a broader banking crisis.

Microsoft wins dismissal of Activision consumer antitrust suit

Microsoft won the dismissal of a private antitrust lawsuit that pinned a group of video game plaintiffs against the company for its pending purchase of Activision Blizzard, Mike Scarcella reports for Reuters.

U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Corley told the group their allegations claiming the transaction would stifle competition and innovation in the video game industry did not have sufficient evidence.

Joseph Saveri, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told Reuters they planned to submit an amended lawsuit ‘with additional factual detail’ to ‘address all of the ways in which the judge indicated we need to allege more,’” Scarcella writes.

Lawyers and representatives for Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment for the story.

Rant and rave

Twitter users began conversing with Google’s newly released Bard chatbot, and the results are interesting, to say the least. Technology blogger and engineer Jane Manchun Wong:

Tom Warren from the Verge:

Davey Alba from Bloomberg News:

Hill happenings

Shou Zi Chew’s ‘death wish’ mission: Defend TikTok on Capitol Hill (By Drew Harwell)

Agency scanner

U.S. seeks to prevent China from benefiting from $52 billion chips funding (Reuters)

Chip makers find out how to get 25% investment tax credit (The Wall Street Journal)

Biden’s path to forcing TikTok sale leads to now-dead app (The Information)

Competition watch

BT accused of stifling competition by broadband network rivals (Bloomberg News)

Workforce report

Kenyan judge temporarily blocks mass layoff of Facebook moderators (Reuters)


Say what, Bard? What Google’s new AI gets right, wrong and weird. (Geoffrey A. Fowler)


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