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Tech News & Announcements

Firechat working on bluetooth-based Greenstones, hardware widgets to strengthen mesh networks on mobile (Russell Brandom/The Verge)

What if instead of connecting to the phone company, we connected directly to each other’s phones? Called "mesh networking," the idea has been kicked around for years in hacker circles, but it got a major boost with iOS 8. Thanks to the new "Multipeer Connectivity Framework," iPhones were able to connect to each other directly over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, a minor software update with potentially major consequences. Firechat was one of the first apps to seize on the new feature, building a mesh-enabled chat app that drew a surprisingly large user base . Less than a year after iOS 8’s release, the app has chalked up 5 million users, popping up at music festivals and protests around the world. For protests, it was a way to communicate without routing through potentially hostile carriers, holding out even in the face of an internet blackout . For everyone else, it was just a fun way to jump off the grid. What if instead of connecting to the phone company, we connected directly to each other’s phones? But as the system has grown, it's run up against a serious range problem. The iPhone has a lot less Wi-Fi strength you'd get from a router, and can't reach nearly as far. Android phones are still stuck with Bluetooth for multipeer connections, which is even more limited. Firechat has found the most success in dense crowds — particularly music festivals — but most of the users end up reverting to standard networks as soon as the crowd breaks up. If mesh messaging is ever going to be more than a software flash mob, it's going to need a way to reach farther. But how? Now, we're getting a look at Firechat's answer

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Indian Supreme Court upholds freedom of speech online, scraps controversial censorship law (NDTV News)

New Delhi:  The Supreme Court has scrapped a contentious law that was seen as a major infringement of the freedom of speech online because it allowed the arrest of a person for posting offensive content. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, introduced in 2000, has been declared unconstitutional. Describing the law as "vague in its entirety," the judges said, it encroaches upon "the public's right to know." The law had been challenged first by a law student named Shreya Singhal after two young women were arrested in 2012 for posting comments critical of the total shutdown in Mumbai after the death of Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief. The group that challenged the law in the Supreme Court expanded to include the NGO Common Cause and  Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen. The contention by most of the petitioners was that Section 66A is vague and allows the police arbitrary interpretation and misuse of the law. The previous government, headed by the Congress, said that the law was necessary to combat abuse and defamation on the Internet. The new BJP government also defended the law in court. Critics of the law said it was misused by political parties to target their opponents and dissidence. A professor in West Bengal was arrested in 2012 for posting a cartoon of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, for example. Section 66A reads: "Any person who sends by any means of a computer resource any information that is grossly offensive or has a menacing character; or any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine."

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Over 50 companies make their presentations on Y combinator W2015 Demo Day 1 (TechCrunch)

It’s that time again! Today was Demo Day 1 (of 2) for Y Combinator’s Winter 2015 class — when investors and reporters get their first in-person look at many of the startups that YC has been incubating for the past few months. Want to see what debuted? We’ll have a list of our favorites soon — but if you want something more exhaustive, we’ve got the whole list below. Startups are listed in order of presentation, along with our attempts to describe the company in just a few words. We’ve also linked to our existing coverage for each company, where applicable. HigherMe : Helps employers and employees source and fill hourly jobs Nomiku : An at-home sous-vide that clips onto your existing pop, with sous-vide ready meals shipped to your door SmartHires : Helps founders make hires from recommendations made by other founders in the same investor’s portfolio. Cleanly : Laundry pickup/delivery in NYC Outbound : Helps companies communicate with customers through email or SMS all from one central hub. Level : Custom photo frame creation, promising to sell frames at “half the price” of big box stores. Priime: Photo editing that recommends filters automatically Kuhcoon : Automated Facebook ad campaigns for small businesses Treeline : Build a backend without coding InsiteVR : Helps you easily view a 3D model in virtual reality Pigeonly: Helping inmates stay connected with their families while incarcerated Omniref : Rap Genius for code. Annotations that stick to code; like comments, but automatically follows your code as it moves around in your program TeamNote : Provides enterprise communications for companies that have people out in the field. Spoil : Personal gift concierge. You pick how much you’re willing to spend on a gift; they buy it and send it. MetricWire: Software for researchers conducting clinical trials GiveMeTap : Buy a water bottle, and they give someone “5 years of clean drinking water” Chariot : Shared commuting; 4 routes currently. DemocracyOS: Get information about the current topics being discussed in Congress, and debate/vote within the community on how you’d like your representative to act

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NFL to broadcast one game via Internet for upcoming season for the first time in its history (Kevin Clark/Wall Street Journal)

What's Your Workout Love at First Sight of a Punching Bag Jason Gay Bracket’s Gone and Not Even Mad U.S. Boston Olympics Organizers Say a Final Bid Depends on Majority Support Business How Adidas Aims to Get Its Cool Back Health Care Is a Paleo Diet Healthy? Law Journal. Wal-Mart Fights Bid to Curb Gun Sales Small Business Battered Businesses in Ferguson, Mo., Tap Crowdfunding PLAY Quirky Bubble Wrap Helps Schools Pop Into the Record Books

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Facebook to test new format for hosting publisher content within months, initial partners include NYT, BuzzFeed, NatGeo (New York Times)

Photo Chris Cox, Facebook's vice president for product matters, in 2013. The site is said to be in talks with several news publishers. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times Nothing attracts news organizations like Facebook . And nothing makes them more nervous. With 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site. Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements. Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said. To make the proposal more appealing to publishers, Facebook has discussed ways for publishers to make money from advertising that would run alongside the content. Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless. News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter

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Netflix launches in Australia, AU$8.99/month for standard definition, AU$14.99/month for Ultra HD (Juli Clover/MacRumors)

It's March 24 in Australia and New Zealand, which means Netflix is now live in the country as promised. New Netflix subscribers in Australia and New Zealand will be able to access Netflix content on their Apple TVs, through the Netflix channel that is now available. Netflix plans in Australia are priced at A$8.99 for single-stream access to standard definition content, A$11.99 for two-stream high-definition access, and A$14.99 for four-stream Ultra HD access. All new Netflix subscribers in the two countries can sign up for a one-month free trial. At the current time, it appears that content available to Netflix subscribers in Australia and New Zealand is somewhat more limited than content available in the United States. Movies like The Wolf of Wall Street , Silver Linings Playbook , World War Z , and The Croods are available on Netflix in the U.S., but are not available in Australia and New Zealand. According to The Sydney Morning Herald Australian Netflix has several thousand fewer titles than the U.S. version of the service, but it has 693 shows that are not available in the U.S. or Canada. Netflix has said that content available in Australia will improve in the near future as it continues to add additional shows and movies.

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Trade group led by AT&T and Verizon sues FCC to overturn net neutrality (Jon Brodkin/Ars Technica)

The Federal Communications Commission's new net neutrality rules haven't taken effect yet, but they're already facing lawsuits from Internet service providers. One such lawsuit was filed today by USTelecom , which is led by  AT&T, Verizon, and others. Another lawsuit was filed by a small Internet service provider in Texas called Alamo Broadband. ( The Washington Post  flagged the lawsuits .) Further Reading The net neutrality order , which reclassifies broadband providers as common carriers and imposes rules against blocking and discriminating against online content, "is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion," USTelecom alleged in its petition to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The order "violates federal law, including, but not limited to, the Constitution, the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and FCC regulations promulgated thereunder." The order also violates notice-and-comment rulemaking requirements, the petition said. The petitions don't go into any more detail on the Internet service providers' arguments. The timing is an issue; the FCC's rules haven't been published in the Federal Register and do not go into effect until 60 days after publication. USTelecom's suit says it "is filing this protective petition for review out of an abundance of caution... in case the FCC's Order (or the Declaratory Ruling part of that Order) is construed to be final on the date it was issued (as opposed to after Federal Register publication, which USTelecom believes is the better view)." Parties have ten days to file lawsuits from whichever date of publication ends up being the significant one. The full order was posted on the FCC's website on March 12 . The DC Circuit threw out similarly early appeals from Verizon and MetroPCS to the FCC’s first net neutrality order back in April 2011 , calling them premature. Verizon ultimately filed after the correct date and won , forcing the FCC to start over. “We believe that the petitions for review filed today are premature and subject to dismissal,” an FCC spokesperson told Ars. Lawsuits are also likely to be filed by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and CTIA-The Wireless Association, the major trade groups representing cable and wireless operators. Trade groups, rather than individual Internet providers, are expected to lead the fight against the FCC this time around.

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Twitter testing new quality filter that removes threats and offensive/abusive content from timelines; currently available for verified users only…

After admitting that it's failed to adequately combat abuse and harassment , Twitter has been moving swiftly to weed out its worst users  — or at least make them easier to ignore. Its latest step appears to be a "Quality filter," first noticed by Anil Dash, that will curate your timeline in an attempt to hide unwanted messages. The filter "aims to remove all tweets from your notifications timeline that contain threats, offensive or abuse language, duplicate content, or are sent from suspicious accounts." Beyond that, the specifics on how Twitter is picking out offending tweets and accounts hasn't yet been spelled out, nor has the company officially acknowledged or announced the quality filter. The Verge has reached out for more information. Users must toggle the setting on to enable Twitter's new filter. Last week, Twitter introduced changes to its harassment reporting tools that  make it easier to alert authorities about threats to personal safety and flag other tweets that warrant immediate attention from law enforcement.

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Slack Is Said to Be in Funding Talks at $2 Billion-Plus Value (Serena Saitto/Bloomberg Business)

(Bloomberg) -- Slack Technologies Inc., whose software helps people collaborate at work, is in talks with investors to raise financing at a valuation of more than $2 billion, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The funding round hasn’t yet closed, and the size and terms of the deal may change, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. A representative of the San Francisco-based company declined to comment. In October, Slack raised $120 million in a round of financing co-led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Google Ventures, valuing the company at $1.12 billion. The investments are a further validation for Stewart Butterfield, who co-founded Tiny Speck Inc. and raised $17 million to develop an online game called Glitch. Tiny Speck had $5 million left when in 2012 Butterfield and the founders decided to shut down the game and return cash to stakeholders. Instead, their investors encouraged them to keep the money and start a new business, which became Slack. Butterfield had previously sold photo-sharing website Flickr to Yahoo! Inc. in 2005. More than 50 U.S. technology companies reached a valuation of at least $1 billion in the past two years, according to CB Insights. Other startups such as Airbnb Inc. and Snapchat Inc

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Microsoft delivers Windows 10 tools for building universal applications (Mary Jo Foley/ZDNet)

Summary: Microsoft's Windows 10 software development kit for writing universal apps is now available for download. Microsoft is giving software developers the green light to start writing universal applications that will work on Windows 10. On March 23, Microsoft made available for download the Windows 10 Technical Preview tools for developing for the coming Windows 10 universal application platform. To get the new tools, developers need to sign up for the Windows Insider Program, install the latest Windows 10 technical preview release and install both Visual Studio 2015 Community Technology Preview (CTP) 6 and the Tools for the Windows 10 Technical Preview, which include the Windows 10 software development kit (SDK). For the last few years, Microsoft officials have been evangelizing the idea that

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