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Trade group for Facebook, Google, others to hire diversity head

Lawmakers want tech companies to take more action in regard to combating racism, sexism and bigotry online.

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The tech industry says it’s making a move to improve diversity, this time at the behest of Washington. In a letter addressed to Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman and Emanuel Cleaver, the Internet Association trade group, which represents Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and other major tech companies, said it’s creating a new role at the IA: director of diversity and inclusion policy.

“It is important that the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints among internet users is well represented in the industry generally and in our policy engagement specifically,” reads the letter. The Internet Association declined to comment beyond the letter.

The IA’s note to the Democratic representatives, Watson Coleman from New Jersey and Cleaver from Missouri, comes in response to a letter sent by them in November. That letter (PDF) asked for a review of several concerns related to the spread of racism, bigotry and sexism online, as well as to privacy and the growth of artificial intelligence.

“We call on you to hold your members responsible for the spread of racial and gender bias where they can and urge you to adopt best practices and policies to hold these members accountable with consequences,” said the letter from Watson Coleman and Cleaver. And if that doesn’t happen, said the letter, Congress will push for increased regulations on internet companies. Uber, also a part of the Internet Association, said on Tuesday that it’s hired its first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, after an investigation led by former US Attorney General Eric Holder into the company’s workplace culture.

The industry has taken an increasing amount of flack for its low numbers of women and minorities. According to a job posting on the IA’s website, the group’s new director of diversity and inclusion will be responsible for things like working with government officials on advocacy. “The Internet Association has responded in a very serious and proactive manner to our concerns that there was no one guarding the guardians when it comes to the internet and its potentially negative effects on racial and gender bias,” Cleaver said in a statement.

Watson Coleman called the new position a first step in the right direction, saying in a statement, “It is imperative that industry leadership is held accountable for mitigating the social and ethical risks that perpetuate the spread of racial, gender and religious bias.”

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.

CNET en Espanol: Get all your tech news and reviews in Spanish.

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Burger King amusingly mocks FCC's net neutrality repeal

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.

The pain that comes with paying regular prices.

Burger King/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It’s an emotional issue. Critics fear that the Federal Communications Commission’s recent repeal of net neutrality will cause the internet to have several speeds, with the fastest being reserved for the biggest companies. Protesters are taking to the streets.

Montana just became the first state to ignore the FCC and insist on net neutrality.

But what does Burger King think? When a brand beloved by many takes a stand, perhaps more people will take notice. So, bolstering its street credentials, the burger chain is standing with the protesters. In a new ad, it’s using its famed, flamed Whopper to explain what net neutrality will likely mean for the ordinary citizen. (Please allow me a very brief digression to tout a colleague and mention that it’s not the first time someone’s used an ingestible to explain net neutrality.

CNET’s Bridget Carey used beer.) In the Burger King commercial, we’re in one of the chain’s outlets. Angry people abound.

Which can happen in a burger joint.

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Here, though, the problem is that some people are getting their Whoppers quickly, while others are forced to bathe in their hunger pangs for seemingly ages. Well, they only paid the regular prices. “Whopper neutrality was repealed.

They voted on it,” explains the patient Burger King employee. A customer gets very, very annoyed when she discovers that, in order to get his Whopper more quickly, a fellow human paid £26. This is precisely what many fear — that internet services will be chopped up and served at ever-higher prices for those prepared to pay. (Some cite Portugal as an example of this, although the web site Snopes says that’s not accurate.)

Another customer describes it all as a bad dream, the blood coursing through his veins as he curses. Oh, there are many aspects of the current world that might feel, to some, like a bad dream. But what can one do?

Accept and adjust, I suppose. Or mock and protest, of course. As far as Burger King is concerned, this is serious. “We believe the internet should be like Burger King restaurants, a place that doesn’t prioritize, and welcomes everyone,” Fernando Machado, the chain’s chief marketing officer, said in a press release.

The FCC didn’t respond to a request for comment (which I sent via regular-speed email). Perhaps the FCC won’t appreciate this mockery. Some, though, didn’t appreciate FCC chairman Ajit Pai offering a humorous speech at a recent industry dinner, in which he joked that he’s a Verizon puppet.

Now Playing: Watch this: Beer helps explain battle brewing over net neutrality 2:10

I wonder if McDonald’s will now come out with an ad, featuring Pai himself, that supports the repeal.

Perhaps it’ll use Big Macs to represent big companies and cheeseburgers to represent the little people.

Aren’t these burger chains permanently in competition?

‘Alexa, be more human’: Inside Amazon’s effort to make its voice assistant smarter, chattier and more like you.

CNET en Espanol: Get all your tech news and reviews in Spanish.

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Elton John announces final tour with a stellar VR concert

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Elton John is a rock-and-roller whose works are a part of our cultural conscience for 5 decades. One of his biggest hits was his 1973 song “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”. The ballad has this chorus:

“So goodbye yellow brick roadWhere the dogs of society howlYou can’t plant me in your penthouseI’m going back to my plough” The lyrics take on added significance Wednesday, when the singer announced his final world tour. The New York event included an incredible VR medley that was streamed via YouTube of songs like “Rocket Man” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” For example, for “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” a VR version of John is shown decked out in a sparkling Dodgers baseball uniform performing at his sold out concert at Dodger’s Stadium in 1975.

Here is a screenshot from the VR portion of the event with Elton John performing at Dodger Stadium in 1975.

Elton John

The world tour will cover 300 cities over a 3 year period.

The event was hyped days before with AR versions of Elton John performing at London’s King’s Cross station.

This is a developing story.

Please check back for updates.

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Google I/O conference set for May 8 through 10

The dates are set. Google’s annual I/O Developer Conference is penciled in for May 8 through 10, 2018, and will be held in Mountain View, California, at the Shoreline Amphitheater. If you don’t know what I/O is, here’s why everyone who uses an Android phone (or iPhone) should care. Every year, Google uses its developer conference to unveil the latest version of Android (Android P?) and other tech innovations from Google.

Last year, I/O brought a ton of cool announcements like the Google Lens project, updates with Daydream VR and Tango AR, Android O, and even Google Assistant coming to the iPhone. Almost all of these innovations will end up on Android phones or Google’s products, so we’re eager to see what Google brings this year. To reveal when the I/O conference will be held, Google released a mysterious tweet at midnight Jan.

24.

Plans are coming along for #io18pic.twitter.com/48VpqvVqWU

— Google Developers (@googledevs) January 24, 2018

If you’re looking at this tweet and scratching your head, you probably aren’t fluent in binary code. Don’t worry, translating the text from binary will give you a link for google.com/io. Once you go to that site, you’ll be given a series of puzzles that will reveal the time and place of I/O 2018.

Even though I revealed the date at the beginning of this post (sorry about that), the puzzle is still fun to try to solve.

So if you’re up for the challenge, go to the Google I/O site linked to above.

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