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India’s Telecom Authorities Have Ruled Against Facebook’s Controversial Free Internet Plan

Manjunath Kiran / AFP / Getty Images

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released their long-anticipated ruling on net neutrality in India. The regulators have ruled against differential and discriminatory pricing of mobile data on the basis of content.

This ruling will affect Free Basics — Facebook’s controversial plan to offer free, but limited Internet access — in India. Mark Zuckerberg has been campaigning to bring increased digital connectivity to the developing world. Free Basics, which claims to have 15 million users in more than 35 countries around the globe, is part of Facebook’s quasi-philanthropic efforts. India is the second largest market for Facebook users after the United States and considered vital to its continued growth.

Today’s much-anticipated ruling by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was not about Free Basics per se. Rather, regulators were reviewing pricing schemes like “zero-rating,” where mobile operators offer access to some websites and services for free, while charging for others. Advocates for digital equality argue that zero-rating gives an unfair advantage to subsidized content, distorts the market for smaller players, and squashes innovation. Supporters of Free Basics, on the other hand, counter that urban elites who already have Internet access should not deny access to the poor, even if more equitable methods exist.

According to the Press Trust of India, TRAI will charge a penalty fee of ₹50,000 a day, and capped at ₹50 lakhs for any discriminatory tariffs charged by service providers. TRAI's decision will be reviewed after two years from the date of issue of the order, February 8, 2016. Service providers have been granted six months to comply with the new rules.

Free Basics was temporarily banned in December until TRAI made its decision. TRAI was supposed to rule last week and rumors have been swirling about the reason for the delay.

In India cheap cellphones have helped make mobile usage common, but only about 20 percent of the population is online. Low Internet penetration is blamed, in part, on prohibitive data charges, which is why prepaid data plans (where consumers know what they're getting into) are ubiquitous. Meanwhile, the country’s telecom market is highly competitive. As a result, telecom providers started offering data packs that promise free or reduced charges to widely popular services like WhatsApp or Facebook long before Free Basics launched in India.

Facebook does not pay for Free Basics, although it does collect data from users. The social network partners with regional telecom operators, who offer the free service as a growth strategy to get customers to start paying for data. In India, Free Basics partnered with Reliance Communications, a telco founded by Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India.

Free Basics was ostensibly targeted at Indians who had never experienced the Internet or could not pay for data plans. However, Facebook recently struggled to provide a reporter with the name of a single Free Basics user in India who had never been online before. Free Basics allows users free access to limited resources including Wikipedia, Bing search, and the weather, as well as a lightweight version of Facebook. Yet normal data charges apply for outside websites, like Google search results, for example.

Facebook's promotion of Free Basics has been orchestrated like a political campaign. In December, Zuckerberg published an op-ed in the Times of India defending Free Basics. In it, he repeated Facebook’s claim that half of the people who go online through Free Basics end up paying for access to “the full Internet” within 30 days, but offered no further details about the study. “Who could possibly be against this?” Zuckerberg asked. “Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India.” Other countries have prohibited Free Basics. It is not offered in Chile, for example, because the government banned zero-rating in 2014.

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

Public outcry over zero-rating did not begin with Facebook. Last spring, Indian consumers protested Airtel Zero, a data plan that would have given preferential treatment to popular services like Flipkart, one of the country’s largest e-commerce providers. Free Basics eventually supplanted Airtel as the focal point for opponents, in part because Facebook framed Free Basics as a purely altruistic gesture for India’s poor. Indian startup entrepreneurs and professors alike objected to the business model. Facebook countered with an aggressive advertising onslaught of billboards and full-page newspaper ads, but its tone-deaf crusade was brutally spoofed on Reddit.

No one wants to cut off access to the disenfranchised and the vitriol flowed both ways. Net neutrality advocates were accused of being “internet mullahs” who denied access to the poor over their inflexible beliefs.

As an independent government authority, TRAI opted to exercise its power and stepped in to the debate. Helani Galpaya, the CEO of the think tank LIRNEasia, described TRAI as a “thoughtful regulator” during an interview with BuzzFeed News in January. The agency's initial request for feedback emphasized that the “laudable goal” of connecting the unconnected “must not be forgotten.” One of the questions TRAI asked was whether alternative business models, such as offering free data limited by time or volume, rather than content, could offer a less discriminatory alternative.

TRAI has repeatedly called out Facebook for intruding on its regulatory process, which the agency said could have “dangerous ramifications for policy-making in India.” The tension centered around Facebook’s click-to-protest campaign which deluged TRAI with 11.7 million automated comments, when none of the questions asked about Free Basics.

Facebook has updated Free Basics to better serve its intended users before, when prodded. The zero-rated offering was initially called Internet.org — the umbrella organization for its other efforts to bring connectivity to the developing world. Facebook changed the misleading name, made the platform more easily accessible to outside websites and services, and added more security protections for users in response to criticism from net neutrality activists.

Given that Facebook’s future is dependent on growth from emerging markets, India’s debate over Free Basics is far from over. Last week while awaiting TRAI’s decision, Mishi Choudhary, legal director at Software Freedom Law Center, told BuzzFeed News that other areas of the globe including Kenya, Latin America, and Southeast Asia were eagerly anticipating the regulator’s response. “That’s where the moolah is and that’s where the next billion users are,” she said.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Facebook for comment, and will update this story with more information as we receive it.

BuzzFeed – Tech

This Company Just Started Offering Free, Customized Tutoring Online

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

For years, the ed-tech start up Knewton has been content to stay behind the scenes, lending its adaptive-learning technology to big-name education publishers like Pearson and Houghton Mifflin. But Knewton is stepping out of the shadows with a plan to take its technology to the masses.

Today, the company is launching Knewton.com, a free online tutoring platform that creates personalized lessons for learners out of completely “open” content — videos, readings, and test questions that are uploaded onto the platform by users. Though it is starting with kindergarten through high school, the plan, the company said, is to eventually move into college-level subjects and beyond.

Jose Ferreira, the company's CEO, calls Knewton.com a “robot tutor in the sky.”

Knewton, founded in 2008, has made its business out of providing technology to many of the world's largest education companies, allowing them to build curriculum that adapts to individual students. Knewton software collects millions of data points about what students know and how they learn, then translates them into customized lessons, questions and quizzes.

The new platform launching today brings the same technology to teachers, parents and students, formulating custom lessons for students by stitching together the best videos and quizzes from a library of user-created content. Working within a topic like “exponential equations” or “cellular respiration,” each student will see a different lesson, with different quiz questions and videos, stitched together based on the student's strengths and weaknesses.

In a classroom, Knewton.com might function as a replacement for a worksheet on a topic like the Pythagorean theorem — rather than giving every student the same questions, teachers can have students working at their ability, with some reviewing the basics of the concept and others solving advanced problems.

For the first time, rather than using a textbook company's curriculum, Knewton has put its software to work on “open educational” resources like Youtube videos and teacher-written lessons. The idea is to use Knewton's technology to pick the best of those resources, then serve them up to thousands of students. Knewton's algorithms test the effectiveness of every piece of content that's uploaded to the platform. Materials that work well will be “floated to the top,” with the potential to be shown to thousands of students; if it proves ineffective, it will be sifted out in favor of better curriculum.

“There's so much good stuff out there, and only a small percentage of it is on the web,” said David Liu, Knewton's chief operating officer. “So much is trapped on teachers' desktops, so we're really trying to open up great content that would normally only be seen by maybe 30 students.”

Knewton said there are no plans to charge users for the platform; its moneymaking business, Liu said, is its back-end work with curriculum companies like Pearson. But the company still has a lot to gain from offering the service.

Knewton's business is built on understanding how students learn. As the platform grows, Knewton will learn more about what makes good content, how students move through subjects, and what teachers want out of tutoring resources. That knowledge will be a boon to Knewton's moneymaking business, too, allowing it to provide better technology to the companies it works with.

Knewton will also amass detailed “learner profiles” of students — profiles that can, ideally, follow students into classrooms and outside of them. These, too, will enhance the quality of the company's technology.

It also won't hurt that the service will give Knewton a foothold in many schools where it doesn't currently have a presence, showing teachers and school districts the value of buying curriculum that uses Knewton technology.

Knewton last raised money in 2013, when it brought in $ 51 million in Series E round. In 2011, when it raised $ 33 million, it was reportedly valued at well over $ 150 million.

For now, the content on Knewton.com is focused around K-12. In this early stage, Knewton is making a big bet on elementary school teachers, relying largely on them to upload the content — and to populate the platform with their students.

There's already a huge demand for content and lesson-sharing among teachers, said Liu, though much of it is decentralized. Knewton hopes to create a place not just to upload that content, but a way to judge whether it works, and for what types of students.

“Every other site is putting out what experts think is best,” Liu said. “We're doing something very different. We're finding the content that is shown to be the most effective, at that point in time, for that student.”

Many ed-tech companies have had huge success by going directly to teachers to distribute their free products — like Remind, an app that allows teachers to communicate with parents and students that neared the top of the Apple app store last year, or ClassDojo, a behavior-tracking app that has become enormously popular among teachers.

But working directly with teachers to spread its product will be new territory for Knewton, which has so far dealt only with large companies like Pearson. That could prove a challenge for the company. Though it has pre-loaded the site with a stock of educational content, Knewton.com will only thrive if it has users to populate the site and students to learn from.

BuzzFeed – Business

Chick-Fil-A Just Handed Out 6,500 Free Sandwiches In New York City

There’s no strategy like free food.

Venessa Wong / BuzzFeed News

NEW YORK — Over the last two years, the chicken sandwich chain Chick-fil-A has started expanding beyond its usual suburban environs to urban markets, and on Oct. 3, it will open the doors to its largest restaurant yet in the country's largest city, New York.

It will be Chick-fil-A's first location in Manhattan (aside from the NYU cafeteria), which means that even in this city of roughly 8.5 million people, there are plenty yet who have no clue what Chick-fil-A is, despite the fact that the Atlanta-based chain is arguably one of the most successful companies in fast food at the moment.

Chick-fil-A is betting large on the giant, new restaurant, which will be three stories, have 10 registers, and two kitchens. It will have roughly twice the capacity of a typical Chick-fil-A, said Ryan Holmes, a Chick-fil-A urban strategy consultant. In other words, it's expecting tons of business. “Our urban strategy is a lot about New York,” he said.

Chick-fil-A is already planning a second store in Manhattan, and there's room for 15 to 20 locations in the borough, said Holmes, with additional room in the city's outer boroughs like Brooklyn.

To drum up interest in what remains unchartered territory for the brand, on Tuesday and Wednesday, the company handed out roughly 6,500 free chicken sandwiches outside of Madison Square Garden, which is blocks away from the upcoming store. By 10:45 a.m. on Wednesday, roughly 70 people had lined up ahead of the truck's opening, and they continued to pour in.


Chick-fil-A aggressively promoted the giveaway. It hired eight people to spread the word by bike, and five pedicabs to chauffeur people to the truck, which was blasting dance music for passersby.

Chick-fil-A aggressively promoted the giveaway. It hired eight people to spread the word by bike, and five pedicabs to chauffeur people to the truck, which was blasting dance music for passersby.


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BuzzFeed – Business

Kids Dressed Like Cows For A Free Chicken Sandwich And The Results Are Adorable

Chick-fil-A’s eleventh annual Cow Appreciation Day promised free food to anyone who showed up in a cow costume, and show up they did.

Fast food chain Chick-fil-A offered a free meal (entrée, side, and drink) to customers dressed as cows on Tuesday. The promotion, which turns customers into visible chicken-sandwich cheerleaders for a day, has resulted in extreme black-spotted cuteness.

This was the eleventh Cow Appreciation Day, as the Atlanta-based chain calls it, and customers are not shy to take advantage. Chick-fil-A, which is now 1,900 restaurants and growing, gave away more than 1 million sandwiches on Cow Appreciation Day last year. Free food is one of the chain's main marketing tools, and it frequently gives out its sandwiches to celebrate new restaurant openings.

The cow became the chain's unlikely mascot after a 1995 billboard ad featured cows painting a sign that read “Eat Mor Chikin.”

“Chick-fil-A fans have been 'hoofing' it to our restaurants on this day for years,” spokeswoman Carrie Kurlander said in an email.

Here's what the adorable aftermath of this corporate sandwich holiday looks like.

Kids are mooing.


They’re getting extremely excited.


Even the littlest ones are in the spirit.


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BuzzFeed – Business

Obama’s Free Community College Plan Could Hurt For-Profit Colleges

Already-troubled stocks have fallen slightly on the news.

Community college graduates in North Carolina.

AP Photo/The Star-News, Mike Spencer

President Obama's plan to make community colleges free for millions of students could do real damage to the already-struggling for-profit college industry, analysts said.

The “America's College Promise” proposal, which will be announced today, could provide two years of free community college for as many as 9 million students, the administration said. The administration said it envisioned making the first two years of college “as free and universal as high school.”

That could hurt for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix, which charge tens of thousands of dollars for associate's degrees. For-profit colleges and community colleges tend to draw from the same pool of students — poor and minority students, adult learners, and those looking for technical or vocational programs.

Historically, some students choose for-profit colleges over community colleges because they are unaware of the high cost difference between the two types of schools. But a well-publicized, universal program like America's College Promise would point far more students in the direction of community colleges. The Obama administration program also aims to build up the quality and infrastructure of technical education programs.

“This would have a negative impact on the for-profit college sector,” wrote Jeffrey Silber, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets, in a note. For-profit college stocks have fallen slightly on the news, with Apollo, which owns the University of Phoenix, seeing a decline of 3% at the beginning of trading.

The for-profit college sector has already been struggling with declining enrollments and increasing regulatory pressure. Much of that comes from the Obama administration, which has fought a regulatory and public relations war with for-profits. One large for-profit college chain, Corinthian Colleges, agreed to sell off or shutter its campuses last year; another, EDMC, recently delisted itself from the New York Stock Exchange after a dismal financial year.

The America's College Promise program is likely to face opposition from Republicans in Congress. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who heads the Senate's education committee and whose state, Tennessee, offers its own version of the free-community college program, has already voiced his concern that the proposal amounts to federal overreach.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, released a statement Thursday praising Obama's plan. “Community colleges have always been a more affordable, higher quality alternative to for-profit colleges and I support the President's effort to promote their value,” he said.

BuzzFeed – Business

Chase Customers Will Get David Guetta’s New Album First, And Free

JPMorgan’s sponsorships division is on a tear this year, giving customers exclusive early access to Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s tour and now David Guetta’s new album today, set to drop on Nov. 24. The latest move is a partnership with Apple Pay.

One department within JPMorgan Chase has spent the better part of a year trying to remind its customers just how much it pays to bank with Chase. It isn't traditional marketing, advertising or even client service folks leading this charge, but the company's sponsorships division, known as Sports and Entertainment, that has given Chase customers special access to everything from the U.S. Open to Chicago Bears games, the Radio City Rockettes and their Christmas Spectacular, to, probably most notably, Jay-Z and Beyoncé's On the Run tour, which allowed Chase customers early ticket purchasing and other perks.

And now, in conjunction with Apple Pay, JPMorgan is tapping into a new audience in electronic dance music, giving Chase customers with an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus early, and perhaps more importantly, free access to 'Listen,' the latest album from EDM superstar David Guetta beginning today—three days before Atlantic Records' November 24 scheduled release of the album.

“We're offering 'Listen' the weekend before it comes out to the general public, if you have Apple Pay, you'll be able to listen to the whole album for free,” said Steve Pamon, JPMorgan's head of Sports and Entertainment. “It's a big incentive to be a Chase customer and try Apple Pay for the first time.”

As for why the bank chose to partner with Guetta, Pamon told BuzzFeed News that the decision was an easy one.

“For us, being a core bank around innovation and progressive movement, the chance to partner with David is just an opportunity we couldn't pass up,” Pamon said. “If you think about [Apple Pay], there's a target psychographic for that, folks willing to try new things and who are careful to think about what they do. David is on the forefront of using technology to make people happy. There's no better artist in the world that we think represents that.”


For Guetta, the feeling is mutual.

“Collaborating is a part of what I do in my creative process and it made sense to collaborate with partners Chase and Apple Pay to do something that has not been done before,” Guetta told BuzzFeed News. “I love innovation and reinvention, I've tried to do this with the songs on my new album 'Listen'. And it is a special treat for my U.S. fans who can get access to my album as a gift from Chase three days before it goes on sale and also open up my music to people it may be new to.”

Though the the bank invests a lot of time and resources into figuring out the best way to reach customers through its sponsorship programs, Chase didn't have to think too hard about its last major partnership effort, with Jay-Z and Beyoncé's On the Run tour, which offered Chase customers an exclusive presale to purchase tickets ahead of anyone else. Nearly 350,000 of them did—a massive number. The sponsorship decision for On the Run is emblematic of Chase's growing efforts in the space, something they've devoted more and more resources to this year.

Just last week the bank sponsored the Concert for Valor, a huge live event in Washington DC honoring veterans that featured artists like Bruce Springsteen, Rihanna, Eminem, Metallica, and Jennifer Hudson, to name just a few.

“We've always had an established base in sponsorship, if you go back 30 years, all of our brands have been involved with with sports, and now you're starting to see a real push for entertainment,” Pamon said. “We are starting to go where our consumers are going, with live performances and music. The On the Run tour was as close to a home run as you could get as far as partners, and we think David [Guetta] is the same way.”

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BuzzFeed – Business