This Week in Tech 670: Go Theranos or Go Home

–A New Tech Manifesto by Baratunde: how to reinvent social media to improve all our lives.
–Apple’s WWDC announcements: Screen Time restores balance to your life, memojis avoid the uncanny valley, ARKit 2 might (might) actually have usefull apps, Siri Shortcuts might (might) make Siri useful, macOS Mojave makes much-needed improvements to the Finder, tvOS gets Dolby Atmos.
–Gmail’s improved design is headed your way.
–Microsoft buys GitHub: how MS went from a Windows monolith to an open-source champion.
–Computex’s big announcements: Intel fudges some numbers, AMD’s new Threadripper 2, and ASUS put a computer in your computer so you can compute while you compute.

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The Ambassador who worked from a Nairobi bathroom to avoid State Dept. IT

The current scandal roiling over the use of a private e-mail server by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is just the latest in a series of scandals surrounding government e-mails. And it’s not the first public airing of problems with the State Department’s IT operations—and executives’ efforts to bypass or work around them. At least she didn’t set up an office in a restroom just to bypass State Department network restrictions and do everything over Gmail.

However, another Obama administration appointee—the former ambassador to Kenya—did do that, essentially refusing to use any of the Nairobi embassy’s internal IT. He worked out of a bathroom because it was the only place in the embassy where he could use an unsecured network and his personal computer, using Gmail to conduct official business. And he did all this during a time when Chinese hackers were penetrating the personal Gmail inboxes of a number of US diplomats.

Why would such high-profile members of the administration’s foreign policy team so flagrantly bypass federal and agency regulations to use their own personal e-mail to conduct business? Was it that they had something they wanted to keep out of State’s servers and away from Congressional oversight? Was it that State’s IT was so bad that they needed to take matters into their own hands? Or was it because the department’s IT staff wasn’t responsive enough to what they saw as their personal needs, and they decided to show just how take-charge they were by ignoring all those stuffy policies?

The answer is probably a little bit of all of the above. But in the case of former ambassador Scott Gration, the evidence points heavily toward someone who wanted to work outside the system because he just couldn’t stand it.

Take this IT and flush it

Shortly after his arrival in Nairobi, Gration “broadcast his lack of confidence in the information management staff” of the Embassy, the State Department Office of the Inspector General noted in an inspection report on the embassy that precipitated Gration’s resignation:

Because the information management office could not change the Department’s policy for handling Sensitive But Unclassified material, he assumed charge of the mission’s information management operations. He ordered a commercial Internet connection installed in his embassy office bathroom so he could work there on a laptop not connected to the Department email system. He drafted and distributed a mission policy authorizing himself and other mission personnel to use commercial email for daily communication of official government business. During the inspection, the Ambassador continued to use commercial email for official government business.

Gration’s demands and “flouting of direct instructions to adhere to Department policy “ put the IT staff at the embassy in Kenya in the position of having to choose between making their boss happy and following State Department regulations and government information security requirements. When they failed to respond to Gration’s demands in a timely fashion, he escalated things by “publicly berating members of the staff, attacking them personally, loudly questioning their competence, and threatening career-ending disciplinary actions,” the IG’s office reported. “These actions have sapped the resources and morale of a busy and understaffed information management staff as it supports the largest embassy in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Apparently, Gration’s impatience with IT extended to not using his secure email and the “front channel” secure diplomatic cable system. The Inspector General’s inspection team observed that “the Ambassador does not read classified front channel messages. No one in the mission screens incoming cables for the Ambassador relevant to Kenyan and US interests in the region. The OIG team also observed that the Ambassador very infrequently logs onto his classified account, which would allow him to read cables and classified emails.” In the end, the IG team recommended that somebody check his accounts for him and screen messages for relevance.

In other words, Gration was the end user from hell for an understaffed IT team in a politically sensitive outpost. “He has willfully disregarded Department regulations on the use of commercial email for official government business,” the IG report noted, “including a front channel instruction from the Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security against such practice, which he asserted to the OIG team that he had not seen”—because he never used his secure network account.

What could have possibly motivated that sort of behavior from a man who had clearly dealt with secure government IT systems in the past as an Air Force major general? In part, it may have been that regardless of how competent the IT team at the Nairobi embassy was, State Department information systems might make working out of a bathroom look good to anyone accustomed to more corporate IT.

Read More: The Ambassador who worked from a Nairobi bathroom to avoid State Dept. IT | Ars Technica.

Google is testing out a complete Gmail UI overhaul

It looks as though Google is testing out a brand new design for its popular web based Gmail service, based on information from Geek.com. The redesign appears as though it will bring the Google web email app more in-line with its upcoming mobile counterpart, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality.

With its email service, Google usually introduces new features and UI elements slowly and in ways that aren’t overly disruptive for avid Gmail users, but the recent images in question show quite a different interface entirely. We see a much more simplified layout with a responsive design and a wider main panel for recent emails. It is very similar to the leaked images spotted last month of the new Gmail for Android design.

The new design does away with the left and/or right fixed side panels, replacing them with Google+ style collapsible menus, allowing for a number of convenient viewing options. On the left, you’ll find all the usuals including your various email folders and groups, and on the right there is a Hangouts option to launch chats, a compose email button, and an interesting reminders option that allows users to store unfinished emails or notes and other things in one place.

We also get to see the pin system from the mobile Gmail redesign leaks in place here, which essentially replaces the “star” system we have now and allows for custom organizing and viewing options of important messages.

The right hand button style, fly-in menus, “Upcoming” section, and new pin system are all features we saw inside last month’s mobile Gmail redesign. There is no official word that any of these features will actually make it into Gmail the way we are seeing them now, but it wouldn’t be out of the question to see something more come out of Google I/O in June, or even sooner.

via Google is testing out a complete Gmail UI overhaul – TechSpot.

Gmail tip: Don’t forget to check your spam filter

 

Before I incur the wrath of non-Gmail users, let me just note that this tip also applies to Hotmail, Outlook.com, Yahoo, and so on. But because I’m a Gmail user myself, and that’s where my story begins, that’s where I’m putting my focus.

When was the last time you checked your spam filter? I ask because until recently, I hadn’t looked at mine for months. That’s because I use Gmail, and the service is so good at keeping junk out of my inbox, I pretty much forgot spam existed.

But a few days ago, I went searching for an email that never arrived, and wondered if perhaps it had gotten caught in Google’s filter.

It hadn’t. However, I was surprised to discover a handful of other messages in the spam inbox that definitely weren’t spam. Nothing crucial, but items I was a little bummed to have missed.

For example, amidst the “enlargement” come-ons and obvious phishing attempts, I found some marketing emails I actually wanted, from companies I’d agreed to let contact me. And a couple messages from readers of another blog I write.

What was particularly strange is that Gmail had filtered some messages from a particular source, but not others. For example, I get regular deal notices from Newegg, but a few wound up in the filter.

I’m not sure why Gmail suddenly decided those messages were spam, though I know the technology behind filtering can be imprecise at best. And it’s easy enough to undo what’s been done: Just click the box next to each message that’s not spam, then click Not Spam.

The moral of the story, of course, is to check your spam filter on a regular basis—once a week at minimum, I’d say. Even if it routinely catches nothing but bona-fide junk, you never know when something important might get intercepted before it reaches your inbox. It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Go ahead and check your Gmail spam filter, then let me know: Did you find any false positives? If so, how many?

via Gmail tip: Don’t forget to check your spam filter | PCWorld.

Ads coming soon to your Outlook.com inbox

It was going to happen sooner or later: the clean minimalist Outlook.com will soon start displaying advertisements alongside your inbox and emails.

Microsoft announced users in the U.S. and Brazil will be the first ones to see the new-format ads, christened versaTiles. Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom are set to follow suit soon.

What are versaTiles?

The versaTiles are basically display ads based around flexible-sized tile strips that appear along the right-hand side of the screen, next to your main inbox view. They also appear when you are inside an email.

At first glance, the ads appear similar to the text ads Gmail users get in their inbox, but when you hover over the Outlook ads, they reveal images, videos, or more info. The Outlook ads are targeted at online retailers, who can pick from three templates for slideshows, videos, images, or catalogue style adverts.

An Outlook.com mailbox with a versaTile ad showing

“They’re built with the same modern-design philosophy to ensure people using Outlook.com have a great experience and see ads in places that can enrich their mail experience, not deter from it,” wrote Microsoft Advertising General Manager in a blog post announcing versaTiles.

There are between four to five ad tiles on the right side of Outlook.com and advertisers can buy an entire lot and customize each tile to show different content or messages. In a demo video of the ad slots, Microsoft showcased one advertising partner, Duracell, which experimented with all the modules offered via versaTiles.

Ads inevitable?

Since Outlook.com is a free service, used by 60 million people at the last count, ads in the interface were deemed to arrive in your inbox sooner or later.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Microsoft ad strategy with Outlook is that you won’t see the standard type of banners cluttering up the site. Instead, you’ll see more carefully prepared campaigns.

However, since Microsoft does not scan your email to serve ads based on them —as Google does with Gmail— the chances of the ads being as carefully targeted as Gmail are not that good.

This could mean that, even though they are nicer to look at, Outlook.com’s ads would not be as relevant to you as Google’s ads.

via Ads coming soon to your Outlook.com inbox | PCWorld.

Google reveals how it has improved user account security

There’s always the risk that you can sign onto one of your online accounts only to find that someone else has taken it over without your knowledge or permission. That kind of situation was happening quite a bit to people who used Google’s online services such as Gmail in the past.

This week, Google posted word on its blog page that it has taken more steps to better protect user accounts from such activity. The efforts started in 2010 when Google noticed that hackers had made changes in their efforts to break into Google accounts.

The blog stated:

We’ve seen a single attacker using stolen passwords to attempt to break into a million different Google accounts every single day, for weeks at a time. A different gang attempted sign-ins at a rate of more than 100 accounts per second.

Google’s solution was to create a large number of variables, over 120 in fact, that are considered whenever a person signs onto a Google account. If a sign-in doesn’t agree with the variables, such as an account that’s accessed from a different country than usual, Google might ask the user a security question or their phone number.

Most hackers can’t answer that information and Google said that those efforts have caused account hijacks to go down by 99.7 percent since 2011. Of course, users can take their own steps to better protect their accounts, such as using two step notification for password confirmations, as well as stronger passwords and using more options for password recovery.

via Google reveals how it has improved user account security – Neowin.

Gmail vs. Outlook.com: Which offers the best email in the cloud?

There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s wearing a Microsoft T-shirt.

Of course, when it comes to business-friendly webmail services, Gmail has been the go-to tool for as long as anyone can remember. Outlook? That was purely a desktop mail client. Hotmail? Most business users wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot spam filter.

But, now, here comes Outlook.com, Microsoft’s new webmail service. And you know what? It’s pretty good. So good, in fact, that it deserves a chance to challenge Gmail head-on. Call it the elephant in the room versus the 800-pound gorilla.

Gmail already has legions of fans and a solid reputation as a versatile, reliable mail service. Outlook.com needs to prove that it’s not just Hotmail with a fresh coat of paint, that it can give business users the tools they need to work quickly, efficiently, and securely. And how does it rate at handling both work and personal email? Can it keep them separate but equal? For that matter, can Gmail?

Before I put these two in the ring, however, keep in mind that Outlook.com isn’t intended to replace Outlook for Windows. Although you can use the former to manage multiple mail accounts (both business and personal), as you can Gmail, it can’t import Outlook PST files—only Outlook contacts exported to a CSV file. If you’re thinking that Outlook.com might just be the tool you need to free yourself from the shackles of its desktop counterpart, think again. (See the comparison chart at the end of this article for details.)

Full Story: Gmail vs. Outlook.com: Which offers the best email in the cloud? | PCWorld.