Technology Now
The business and culture of our digital lives
BitTorrent unveils NSA-proof online calling and messaging software

BitTorrent Inc., the San Francisco company behind the most popular technology for sharing files online, is branching out into a new arena: snoop-proof calling and texting.

The company announced the availability Wednesday of a preliminary, test version of BitTorrent Bleep software, which will enable people to make calls (voice only) and send messages over the Internet without using a central server to direct traffic. Instead, users will find one another through groups of other users, with no records of the calls or texts stored anywhere along the way.

Once a connection is made for a call or text, the communication travels directly between the two computers involved. That peer-to-peer approach also defies mass surveillance. Granted, it doesn't pay to underestimate the National Security Agency's ability to monitor even well-hidden communications. But Bleep certainly makes the job harder than the most popular online calling and messaging apps do.

Bleep will be available by ...

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Snapchat value could hit $10 billion with possible Alibaba investment

Last year, Snapchat decided Facebook's $3-billion offer wasn't cool. You know what's cool? $10 billion.

The Venice start-up is reportedly in talks with investors, including Chinese e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holdings, for a round of financing that would value Snapchat at $10 billion.

The discussions are ongoing and terms could change, according to a Bloomberg report, which cited unnamed sources with knowledge of the situation.

If a deal happens, it would be vindication for Snapchat, which spurned a $3-billion takeover offer from Facebook last year to the bewilderment of tech watchers. Google, too, tried to acquire the company, which enables users to send messages that disappear seconds after they're viewed.

But Snapchat executives insisted then that they were in it for the long run and were not content to sell out and turn over the reins of the young company.

Snapchat Chief Executive Evan Spiegel and spokeswoman Mary Ritti did not return an email and a call for comment. A...

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Electronic Arts launches video game subscription service for Xbox One

Electronic Arts Inc. announced a new subscription service Tuesday that would allow players to download some of its biggest titles for a $4.99-per-month membership.

The company said the service, dubbed, EA Access, is currently in beta testing with just a few Xbox players. But EA said in a press release that it expects EA Access to be available to all Xbox console owners "soon."

With sales of video games struggling in recent years, studios like EA are looking for ways to spark interest and revenue among players who are increasingly flocking to mobile and social games. In some ways, the $4.99 price puts the cost of otherwise expensive games in the realm of a paid app download.

It remains to be seen whether that shift in pricing will get gamers to think differently about the economics of console games.

In the current limited beta version of EA Access, subscribers get to download and play four of the company's biggest games: Madden NFL 25, Peggle 2, FIFA 14, Peggle 2, and Battlefield 4.

In...

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Manatt, ICM, Originate launch O Labs, new investment arm for startups

A law firm, a marketing agency and a software development company have formed a joint venture based in Los Angeles to incubate startups building products and services in line with the needs of major businesses, including video game publishers and Hollywood studios.

O Labs plans to start building projects in-house that the large companies have already expressed interest in. It’ll then seek out executives to take the reins with the hope of successful launches leading to buy-outs or licensing deals. The venture includes Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, ICM Partners and Originate.

“The fact that this brings together so much operational expertise, not just strategists and people who can help you raise money, that’s something new,” said Matthew Pierce, the chief executive of O Labs and a former vice president at Orginate.

The twist on the typical startup accelerator or incubator program will “take the technical, legal and branding risk out of a company in a way that’s not possible with other...

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Bitcoin trading website accused of defrauding thousands of customers

A major bitcoin-to-gold trading website is facing a class-action lawsuit after allegedly defrauding thousands of customers.

Coinabul LLC, a service based in Wyoming that exchanges bitcoin, an online currency, for precious metals, continued accepting bitcoin payments despite allegedly stopping shipments for nearly a year, according to a federal complaint filed Friday in Illinois.

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FOR THE RECORD

July 29, 6:30 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of the company facing the lawsuit. The post has been corrected to reflect the correct spelling.

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The plaintiff, Yazan Hussein, sent 1,644.54 bitcoins -- around $970,000 at current market prices -- to Coinabul in exchange for gold coins and bars, the complaint says. Despite touting a short delivery timeframe, the complaint said, the company never delivered the goods and then refused to give Hussein a refund after he waited several months.

“There was a pretty long time span, close to a year, where these...

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Gaza teenager tweets night of bombs and fear
Twitter shares up 29% in after-hours trading on rebound in user growth

Twitter Inc.'s increased efforts to hold onto new users succeeded in the second quarter, the company reported Tuesday, providing investors some confidence that the social network can persuade more Internet users to join its flock.

Shares of the company shot up more than 29% in after-hours trading, hovering around $50 a share after closing at $38.60. The price had topped $73 in December, a month after Twitter went public, but it’s hit turbulence since then amid slumping user growth.

Tuesday's jump followed an earnings report that analysts said showed Twitter might be back on track in its ambitious quest to produce the Internet's largest audience.

"I don’t think there’s much of a question of whether it’s good platform for advertisers," said Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler. "I think investors want to know how big can Twitter get."

Worldwide active users rose 6% from the previous quarter to reach 271 million, including 60 million accounts in the U.S. Analysts had expected about 267...

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Privacy advocates want regulators to go after Facebook

Privacy advocates Tuesday called for government regulators to investigate Facebook’s tracking of users even when they’re on third-party sites, saying the change might violate a previous privacy agreement Facebook made with the government.

Last month, the social networking site announced that, like many other sites, it would track not just what users do on Facebook but also on many other sites to better tailor advertising to users' interests.

Members of two advocacy organizations, the European Consumer Organization and the U.S.-based Center for Digital Democracy, called for the Federal Trade Commission to halt the practice.

They also want the FTC to investigate whether the shift by Facebook violates an agreement the company made with FTC to better inform users about changes to their privacy and how their content would be used.

Facebook had been accused of telling its users they could keep their information private while  repeatedly allowing that information to be shared and made public....

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Uber, Airbnb team up with Concur to cater to business travelers

In an effort to attract corporate accounts, Uber and Airbnb each announced plans to make it easier for businesses to use the ride-sharing and apartment-sharing services.

The two San Francisco sharing-economy start-ups this week announced that they would integrate their services with software from Concur, which helps companies manage employee travel.

Meanwhile, Airbnb -- which says nearly 10% of its customers already travel for business -- launched a new section on its website that lists properties most suitable for business travelers.

Follow me on Twitter at: @sal19

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Amazon Fire Phone not enticing enough to leave Apple, Android

Amazon.com made its boldest move yet into the electronics hardware business by entering the fiercely competitive smartphone market earlier this month with the release of the Amazon Fire Phone.

The Amazon smartphone is suited with top-of-the-line components and priced to compete with other high-end devices. The Fire Phone is a perfectly capable gadget, but it isn’t so remarkable that Apple or Android owners will jump ship. At best, the device is a convenient choice for devout Amazon shoppers, but at worst, it’s just another fish in a sea of smartphones.

The Amazon Fire Phone looks like an oversized black iPhone with front and back glass panels, curved corners, and a narrow, rectangular build. But it diverges in a couple of ways. The Fire Phone has rubber side edges, prominently features the Amazon logo on its back and it includes a speaker on both its top and bottom sides for stereo sound -- a rarity among smartphones.

But the Fire Phone’s most distinguishable feature is its four...

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Amazon jumps into 3-D printing market with bobbleheads, more

From personalized miniature bobbleheads to flower vases, Amazon’s new 3-D printing marketplace plans to simplify the 3-D printing process for consumers.

The online retailer, which launched the marketplace Monday, offers users the ability to customize a number of objects including jewelry, bobbleheads and wax seals before having them 3-D printed and shipped out, just like any other Amazon transaction.

Making the customization aspect of the website more accessible to 3-D printing novices is important, Amazon Marketplace Sales Director Petra Schindler-Carter said, because it opens a new marketplace to more consumers.

“It’s an innovation that we’re excited to invest in,” she said.

3-D printers use a variety of materials to create objects including toys and casts for broken bones. The printers themselves often cost several hundreds of dollars, and usually require a rudimentary knowledge of technical programs like AutoCAD to begin building 3-D designs.

Amazon is offering more than 200...

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10 nonprofits receive gift of Web facelifts by L.A. coders

With help from buckets of Red Bull, trays of sandwiches and some last-minute cake, nearly 50 software developers stayed up for the better part of 24 hours last weekend in Santa Monica to build apps for nonprofit organizations.

The technology industry hasn’t enjoyed the rosiest of relationships with their communities (see: the Google bus protests). But there’s hope that future flare-ups could be staved off in part by a growing number of hack-a-thons across the country that are oriented toward a cause.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to create an ecosystem of goodwill,” said Zach Suchin, chief executive of product development company Brand Knew, which organized the Causathon at the General Assembly school in Santa Monica.

The event attracted coders including those still in college and the winning squad, a group of friends from an El Segundo digital agency. Emerging from the chaos of charging cords, Red Bull cans and even a toothbrush were 11 projects. Eight judges, including Los...

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