Email overload -- it's something that we all suffer with; but what’s the solution? To help make it easier to focus on the emails you need to see and deal with, Microsoft is launching Clutter. It's a tool aimed at Office 365 business customers who want to be able to wade through the rubbish and get to the emails that actually matter.
In many ways, Clutter is Microsoft's answer to Google's Priority Inbox feature for Gmail. It determines which messages are those which you are likely to want to handle later rather than straight away, and moves them out of the way to free up your inbox. Less crap to sort through leads to increased productivity -- at least that's the theory.
As part of the simplification of its portfolio, Microsoft is dropping the Lync name as it rebrands the business messaging and conferencing tool. The name will change to Skype for Business in the first half of 2015, and interface tweaks will see the business version of the tools closely mimicking that of the consumer Skype product.
The aim is to create a more uniform experience for people using Microsoft's communication tools at home and in the office. After a decade of Skype, and bearing in mind the success of Lync, it was almost inevitable that the two products would ultimately become one, and that day is now almost here. As Microsoft puts it: "The magic of Skype and the power of Lync are coming together".
The latest high-profile security breach has exposed the personal details of hundreds of thousand of USPS workers, as well as customers. The attack, which is suspected to originate from China, took place in the middle of September, but details are only just emerging. An investigation by the FBI started straight away and is still on-going.
USPS says that employee information such as "names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses, beginning and end dates of employment, emergency contact information" was compromised. The security breach also affects customers as call center data was obtained by the attackers, including "names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses".
The net neutrality debate has been raging for some time and Barack Obama has stepped into the fray, voicing his support for a free and open internet. More than this, the president is calling for broadband to be reclassified under Title II of the Telecommunications Act which would give the FCC greater powers of regulation. His statement has come as bad news for cable companies who have expressed a desire to create a two-tiered internet.
But while some providers have suggested that they would like to be able to offer a faster service to customers willing and able to pay more money each month, Obama is calling for a largely unfettered internet. As well as eliminating the idea of fast lanes, he calls for no blocking of legal content, no throttling, and greater ISP transparency.
Google is widely regarded as being one of the controllers of the internet. It is by far the most popular search engine and if a site does not appear in the first few pages of results, it may as well not exist. But Google is far from being the only gatekeeper to the internet; Facebook is increasingly vying for that crown, whilst making efforts to make access more secure through Tor. But what does this mean?
Facebook accounts for a terrifying percentage of web traffic -- it is the second most visited website in the world according to Alexa. This means that it has a huge influence online, giving the social network the opportunity to shape the web and holds great sway in determining which sites, services, and stories rise to popularity. To many people, this influence is all but invisible, and this is perhaps the most concerning part of the story. So how does Facebook's influence present itself?
Government websites set to help people gain access to information about AIDS have been leaking the data about its users. Anyone visiting AIDS.gov and making use of the search box will probably be concerned to learn that, until the end of last month, data was transmitted in unencrypted form. The Washington Post points out that this data could be very easily intercepted and used to identify an individual.
We know that web users are more concerned about privacy than ever before -- and little wonder when authorities say that privacy is not a right. We know that there are various ways in which web activity can be monitored, but it seems that the smartphone app associated with AIDS.gov included this feature as standard -- the app collected and transmitted the latitude and longitude of users, again unencrypted.
Social networks have long been a domain for trolls, but in more recent times there has been an increasing problem with harassment of women. There have been a number of high-profile cases recently, including #gamergate, where women have found themselves targets of vicious attacks online. Women, Action & the Media (WAM!) is a US non-profit whose aimed is to fight for gender equality in the media, and its latest project involves collaborating with Twitter to help fight harassment and abuse.
The project's aim is to better understand how online persecution can be tackled. WAM! explains that "women of color, queer women, trans women, fat women, and other oppressed groups of women are especially targeted and abused", but the Twitter collaboration is design to help any Twitter users experiencing "gendered harassment".
Don't get too excited. Actually, don’t get excited at all. To say thanks for taking the trouble to download a multi-gigabyte image, going to the hassle of setting up a virtual machine or installing a new operating system on a spare computer, for providing feedback on the embryonic Windows 10 Technical Preview, Microsoft has a gift for members of the Windows Insider Program. Three wallpapers.
Yes, you did read that correctly. Three. Wallpapers. Available at resolutions from 1280×1024 all the way up to 4K, the theme linking each of the images is the construction of Windows 10. Microsoft seems to think that a Windows Insider might want to "show your pride about helping us build Windows 10", so the wallpapers give a chance to herald your Insider status to passers-by.
As concerns about online surveillance mount, more and more people are seeking ways to protect their identities and disguise their online activities. Services such as Tor are increasingly popular as surfers look for ways to maintain their privacy. Facebook even recently got in on the act, providing users concerned about their privacy with a secure .onion address through which to access the site.
While the likes of Tor are often turned to as a means of bolstering security and privacy, there is also a darker side -- the dark net, the dark web -- which is used for more nefarious activities. One site that rose to notoriety was Silk Road, an anonymous online marketplace where just about anything could be bought. Last year, the FBI closed the service, but Silk Road 2.0 soon sprang up out of the ashes. This has now also come to an end as the FBI once again shut down the marketplace with the help of Europol and Eurojust in a coordinated clampdown on the darker side of the web.
As a web user it's very easy to feel like just another cog in the financial machine. Visit just about any website and you'll encounter ads. These generate revenue that's needed to pay for developers, writers, servers and so on, but the likes of YouTube, which rely on user-generated content, can quickly generate large profits thanks to the costs to revenue margins. Now video streaming service Hang w/ is bucking the trend and sharing profits with its users.
The platform exists as an iOS and Android app, and enables users to broadcast to users around the world as well as conducting video chats. It has managed to earn itself celebrity endorsement from the likes of Cheech and Chong (oh, yes), 50 Cent, Soulja Boy, Timbaland, and Ultimate Poker, and has helped to drive 22 million downloads for major shareholder MEDL Mobile. Recognizing the fact that it is users creating content, Hang w/ now shares 25 percent of its advertising revenue with users.
Three months ago I reached the end of my tether. I'm lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of the UK (it nearly wasn’t part of the UK had the Scottish referendum on independence taken a different turn), but there's one problem: truly awful broadband. There is a 'choice' of one broadband provider who is capable of trickling sub 0.5Mbps connections into houses in the area -- and that's on a good day.
One Twitter rant later, a few emails exchanged with Satellite Internet led to the arrival of two installers to get me set up with a 20Mbps satellite connection. My initial impressions were great. The internet worked as it should for the first time in months. But my fear was that this was just a honeymoon period. So what’s the story nearly three months down the line -- what is it like to live with a satellite internet connection? Were my initial concerns about data usage well-founded?
A new update has been rolled out to WhatsApp that lets users see when the person they are talking to reads a message. The check marks that appear next to messages to indicate that a message has been successfully sent and successfully delivered now have a third indicator mode. A double blue check mark means that the message has been read.
WhatsApp took the messaging world by storm when it first appeared on the scene. Despite having been found to be one of the most insecure messaging tools out there, it remains incredibly popular with around 600 million monthly users. WhatsApp's impact was such that Facebook parted with $19 billion to buy it, and this month the service celebrates its fifth birthday.
Secure communication is something we all crave online, particularly after Edward Snowden's NSA revelations increased public interest in privacy and security. With dozens of messaging tools to choose from, many claiming to be ultra-secure, it can be difficult to know which one to choose and which one to trust. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published its Secure Messaging Scorecard which rates a number of apps and services according to the level of security they offer.
It's a fairly exhaustive list that includes numerous well-known names, as well as several more niche products. What is concerning, however, is that many of the most popular tools -- WhatsApp, Yahoo Messenger, Skype, SnapChat, and Facebook chat -- received very low ratings for failing to protect users and their communication data.
The head of GCHQ, the UK's equivalent of the NSA, says that the Edward Snowden leaks have helped terrorist organizations such as ISIS who have taken to the web to spread propaganda. Writing in the Financial Times, Robert Hannigan points out that ISIS is the first terrorist group whose members have grown up on the internet. He says that the group has made use of "messaging and social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and a language their peers understand" and that the security tools that have popped up post-Snowden makes the work of GCHQ in tracking communication much harder.
This might not come as a surprise, but something else that Hannigan says is likely to raise eyebrows. His assertion that "privacy has never been an absolute right" goes against the grain of what many web users believe, but he suggests that the challenges facing governments and intelligence agencies in fighting back against terrorists can "only be met with greater co-operation from technology companies".
Working in conjunction with Google, Canonical is launching a public beta of Ubuntu for Google Cloud Platform. These are part of the Certified Public Cloud (CPC) programme which means that the cloud versions of Ubuntu will be updated just about as quickly as the regular ground-tethered versions. Images for Utopic Unicorn, TrustyTahr, and Precise Pangolin releases are now available on Google Compute Engine.
The Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, 12.04 LTS releases benefit from the regular five years of maintenance and security updates, while 14.10 has a shorter shelf-life. Taking Ubuntu to the cloud serves as an alternative to the likes of Azure for anyone looking to venture into cloud platforms without breaking the bank.