Potentially deadly tick-borne parasite found in UK for the first time

A potentially deadly tick-borne parasite has been found in the UK for the first time, scientists have warned.

The organism, named B venatorum, causes babesiosis – a malaria-like animal disease recognised as an emerging infection in people.

Symptoms from the infection include flu and jaundice, and can occasionally kill, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The disease has been recorded extensively in China and also Europe, with two confirmed human infections in Italy over the last two decades.

However, it has never previously appeared in the UK until now.

Image: The infection was found in sheep in Scotland. File pic

The organism has been identified in sheep in the north-east of Scotland in a study conducted by University of Glasgow scientists.

Willie Weir, senior university clinician, said: “The presence of B venatorum in the UK represents a new risk to humans working, living or hiking in areas with infected ticks and livestock, particularly sheep.

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“Although we believe the threat to humans to be low, nevertheless local health and veterinary professionals will need to be aware of the disease if the health risk from tick-borne disease in the UK is to be fully understood.”

Scientists collected blood from sheep, cattle and deer in the north-east of Scotland and in areas where tick-borne diseases have previously been detected.

DNA from the parasite was detected in the blood of a large number of sheep, which were not showing any signs of disease – making them carrier animals.

Researchers believe the infection may have been carried to the UK by migratory birds from Scandinavia.

The presence of the parasite in the UK raises concerns for European public health and farming policy, according to the study’s authors.

The paper is published in the December edition of Emerging Infectious Disease.

The findings follow the recent report of the detection of tick-borne encephalitis virus in the UK.

Tories criticised for 'misleading' public with Twitter 'Fact Check' name change

The Conservative Party has been criticised after one of its official Twitter accounts was rebranded as a fact-checking service.

The Conservative Campaign Headquarters press office renamed its account “factcheckUK” for the duration of Tuesday evening’s debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

Those in charge of the account then wrote commentary on the Labour Party leader’s statements and retweeted messages supporting Mr Johnson.

But some raised concerns it could be mistaken for independent fact checkers Full Fact, which described the Tory move as “inappropriate and misleading”.

Labour’s David Lammy called for the Electoral Commission to investigate, saying it showed “what disdain this party and this government has for the truth”.

The Liberal Democrats’ press office wrote on Twitter: “And people wonder why trust in politics has been eroded.”

The @CCHQpress account is verified by Twitter, which means its profile page displays a blue tick intended to show other users that the account is genuine.

But, according to Twitter’s rules published on its website, this verification can be removed for behaviour such as “intentionally misleading people…by changing one’s display name or bio”.

Twitter’s rules also state that users cannot “impersonate individuals, groups, or organisations in a manner that is intended to or does mislead, confuse, or deceive others”.

A Twitter spokesperson said on Wednesday: “Twitter is committed to facilitating healthy debate throughout the UK general election.

“We have global rules in place that prohibit behaviour that can mislead people, including those with verified accounts.

“Any further attempts to mislead people by editing verified profile information – in a manner seen during the UK Election Debate – will result in decisive corrective action.”

Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly told BBC’s Newsnight: “The Twitter handle of the CCHQ press office remained @CCHQPress so it’s clear the nature of the site.

“The reason we did that is because we were calling out the inaccuracies, the lies that were coming out during the debate. The NHS is not for sale.”

When the reporter put to him that the party had misled the public, he said: “I disagree”, adding that the change would have been an idea from the party’s “digital team”.

Sky News’s own team of political correspondents were also critical.

Lewis Goodall said: “This isn’t funny or ‘banter’. It’s disingenuous and grim.”

And in reply to a tweet setting out Mr Cleverly’s defence, Rob Powell wrote: “FACT CHECK: James Cleverly is talking rubbish.”

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Dormouse numbers in Britain 'have halved'

The number of hazel dormice in Britain is said to have halved since 2000.

Numbers are down 51% and they have vanished from 17 English counties, according to data gathered by volunteers for the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme.

They are now almost entirely found south of a line between Shropshire and Suffolk.

Image: The dormouse population is holding steady in some areas

The hazel dormouse is the only one native to Britain.

The tiny mammals have been affected by the way woodlands are managed, said the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

Its State Of Britain’s Dormice report says it is vital to provide the right habitat to bring them back from the brink.

They like mixed woodland: tree holes to nest in, dense shrubby areas under trees, and hedgerows to move around the countryside.

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But a change away from traditional woodland management has made it difficult for them.

Extreme or unseasonable weather can also affect their chances of making it through the winter and their ability to breed.

A sleepy Dormouse is famously a character at the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice In Wonderland

Image: A sleepy dormouse is famously a character at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice In Wonderland

It’s not all bad news – populations were found to be stable or increasing at 96 of the 336 sites looked at.

Ian White, dormouse and training officer at PTES, said: “The decline in dormouse numbers is due to the loss and fragmentation of their natural woodland and hedgerow habitats, as well as climate change.

“In particular, it’s the loss of habitat quality that’s of real concern.”

He added: “We can help bring this species back if we alter the way we manage our landscape.

“By providing enough of the right habitat, which is well-connected and managed correctly, dormice, as well as a huge amount of other wildlife, can thrive once again across the country.”

The PTES has carried out 30 reintroductions at 24 sites over the past quarter of a century, releasing almost 1,000 dormice to create new populations or boost numbers.

It has also just launched the Great British Hedgerow Survey, asking farmers to assess the condition of their hedgerows, which help connect habitat areas for dormice.

Private messages from Brexit-backer Arron Banks leaked online

The Twitter account of Arron Banks, the millionaire businessman who helped fund Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign, has been hacked and private messages leaked online, he has said.

The police and the social media platform have been informed, the co-founder of the campaign group Leave.EU said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr Banks’s Twitter account has since been taken offline.

“I became aware last night that my Twitter account had been hacked and that persons involved have posted personal data obtained illegally via Twitter,” he said.

Mr Banks accused Twitter of not responding to requests to “remove the illegal downloads”.

“Despite the obvious lack of security at Twitter relating to personal data, they have deliberately chosen to leave personal data in the public domain,” he alleged.

A spokesperson for Twitter told Sky News: “We have taken steps to secure the compromised account.

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“We will continue to take firm enforcement action in line with our policy which strictly prohibits the distribution on our service of materials obtained through hacking.”

Sky News understands the National Cyber Security Centre, which is the GCHQ-linked body in charge of defending against cyber attacks, hacks and other online intrusions, has not yet been asked to get involved in investigating the incident.

Andy Wigmore, a business partner of Mr Banks, said a Twitter account called White Pings Security Team had claimed responsibility for the hack.

The @WhitePings account has been suspended.

This is one of a number of suspected cyber attacks during the election campaign.

Mr Banks is not a politician but he has close ties with key political figures such as Mr Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, and was the main donor to Leave.EU during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The Labour Party was hit by two cyber attacks last week, designed to try to disrupt its online platforms.

The Conservative Party also suffered a cyber attack.

Sources told Reuters there was currently nothing to link the attacks on either party to a foreign state.

Security officials are alert to the possibility of foreign states such as Russia attempting to interfere in the election using cyber attacks, disinformation and other forms of unconventional warfare.

Brexit Party under investigation for 'failing to hand over data'

The Brexit Party is being investigated following complaints it failed to hand over the personal data it holds on voters, Sky News can reveal.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) launched the investigation in response to complaints the Brexit Party had failed to answer requests for data.

Under data protection law, anyone can ask an organisation for a copy of their personal information, a process known as a Subject Access Request.

Unless the request is especially complicated, they are entitled to a response within a month.

A Brexit Party spokesperson told Sky News the majority of Subject Access Requests dated back to the European elections in May.

“During the European elections, there was a coordinated attempt by campaigners to flood The Brexit Party with Subject Access Requests,” the spokesperson said.

How political ad spending varies across the major parties

“All political parties are allowed access to the electoral register so they can send literature to voters. However, inaccurate claims circulated on social media, claiming we had acquired people’s addresses improperly, leading to the written requests asking for access to information.”

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Using Twitter’s search function, Sky News found many pro-EU accounts calling for people to file Subject Access Requests to the The Brexit Party in order to find out why they had been sent a party leaflet during the European elections.

Most of the tweets describe wanting to know “how they got your personal details & what they’re going to do with them?”

However, some did suggest Subject Access Requests could be used to interfere with the Brexit Party’s work.

“European GDPR rules can be weaponised to stop political parties using our data to manipulate us,” wrote one on 8 May.

“If a thousand people demanded to see all their data, any organisation would be very busy, to say the least…”

Under data protection law, an organisation does not have to respond to requests that are “manifestly unfounded or excessive”.

Sky News understands the data watchdog has given the Brexit Party a deadline of 22 November to answer the requests for data.

The Brexit Party spokesperson said: “We have responded to the vast majority of letters. Around 0.2% are currently being dealt with and we will meet the deadline agreed with the ICO.

“The Brexit Party follows all regulations and works to meet the highest standards.”

The ICO told Sky News it would not comment on the investigation.

“As a public body the ICO has to consider its responsibilities during the pre-election period,” it said. “Our regulatory work continues as usual but we will not be commenting publicly on every issue raised during the general election.

“We will however, be closely monitoring how personal data is being used during political campaigning and making sure that all parties and campaigns are aware of their responsibilities under data protection and direct marketing laws.”

According to the ICO’s guidance, the watchdog “cannot punish an organisation for breaking the law (apart from in the most serious cases).”

Instead, it “can give them advice and ask them to solve the problem.”

This is not the first time a political party has failed to respond to Subject Access Requests. In August, Sky News reported that the vast majority of complaints to the ICO about political parties’ use of data were directed at Labour, although this data did not include the Brexit Party.

Most of the complaints against Labour concerned its failure to respond to Subject Access Requests.

The ability to access personal data is regarded as a foundational data protection right, as it acts as a “gateway” for other rights, including the right to rectification and the right to erasure.

Pascal Crowe, Data and Democracy Project Officer at campaign group Open Rights Group, told Sky News the investigation showed “the increasing importance of data rights in the political sphere”.

He said: “Given the controversies of recent years, all political parties should equip themselves to deal with Subject Access Requests at scale. Without this capacity they can expect to see more ICO investigations and fines.”

preview image

What is Under the Radar?

Under the Radar is a Sky News project to investigate online political activity throughout the election, from targeted ads to disinformation

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Google Stadia launches to complaints about lag

Google’s game-streaming platform Stadia has launched – and is being immediately criticised for the lag affecting services.

Gamers are finding that the process of communicating with Google’s servers where the games are being run is adding significant delays between when they press a button and when that action is carried out in-game.

Google was certainly aware of the damage which a lot of lag would do to the platform before it launched. Its vice president of engineering Madj Bakar even claimed that Stadia games could actually perform more quickly than those being run on a console or a PC.

This has not been the experience of early adopters.

Performing the computation remotely introduces significant technical challenges which gamers are particularly sensitive to, especially latency.

Latency – the delay between a player pressing a button and that action being carried out in the game – is a critical for online games when reaction speed is a factor. And if the delay is too great it makes even single-player gaming a gruelling experience.

Reviewers have noted that the video quality, which will decrease in order to provide a quicker service, is regularly dropping to 720p – in some cases making cutscenes choppy and unsynchronised with the video, prompting a handful of jokes on social media too.

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Some of this is outside of Google’s control. Internet speeds will vary for users, and data allowances might be prohibitive for players wanting to stream to Pixel phones.

The requirement for internet access might also frustrate players in residences with limited bandwidth too – and some images posted to social media suggest that the troubleshooting advice for players is to not use their internet connections for any other activities while playing.

Image: Google’s Majd Bakar said Stadia could be even faster than console gaming

Google could be underappreciating the demands it has placed on its committed data centres – but some users are encountering very different services depending on whether they are playing on PC or Pixel phone.

A spokesperson for Google told Sky News: “The overall Stadia system design is focused on low latency game play.

“We achieve this through the overall architecture and detailed design of the Cloud, endpoints, and input devices like the Stadia controller.

“By connecting through WiFi, the Stadia controller delivers the lowest latency solution for Stadia as it connects directly to the Cloud.

“Additionally, we saw great results with Project Stream and have been optimistic about our continued work around minimising lag concerns even further.

“We are working on lowering the end to end latency with our scaled deployment including streaming algorithms and proprietary hardware. “

Google Stadia

Image: Stadia will work with a single controller across any screen

Bruce Grove, the chief executive and co-founder of Polystream – and formerly the head of engineering at OnLive, a company which previously attempted to develop a cloud-based gaming service before it was acquired by Sony – broke down the figures for Sky News.

“Google suggests that it will have a potential customer base of hundreds of millions from day one across North America and Western Europe – but how many of those can play or access the service at the same time?

“For example, all 1.5 million Nintendo players at the launch of the Switch could play instantly, whereas we don’t know how many players can do that with Stadia.

“We know that if cloud gaming solutions continue to only offer to replace your console, (we know) that it means putting a GPU in the cloud per player, and that’s really expensive.

“In fact that number of GPUs – Graphics Processing Units – in the cloud simply doesn’t exist.

“Stadia may have bigger pockets to fund this than OnLive ever did (which a decade ago was a £1.5 billion unicorn and we still couldn’t make it scale), but the infrastructure we need simply isn’t there yet and is going to be at least another five years in the making.”

NASA discovers unique orbit to Neptune's moons

Researchers at NASA have discovered that a unique orbiting pattern by Neptune’s two innermost moons allows them never to collide, dubbing it a “dance of avoidance”.

The moons’ unique orbit “has never been seen before” according to Marina Brozovic, the lead author of a new paper.

“There are many different types of ‘dances’ that planets, moons and asteroids can follow, but this one has never been seen before,” added Dr Brozovic.

Image: Diagram shows Neptune’s moons. Pic: NASA/ESA and A Feild

Neptune has 14 confirmed moons, with the most recent being discovered in 2013 and then ultimately named Hippocamp this year.

The most distant is Neso, which orbits the ice giant in an enormous loop which takes it 27 years to complete.

The two innermost moons, Naiad and Thalassa, are much smaller, and oblate rather than spheroid. They orbit the planet every seven and seven-and-a-half hours respectively.

They are very close to each other, orbiting only about 1,150 miles (1,850km) apart – about the distance between the UK and Finland.

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But despite that being the average distance of their orbits, they never actually get that close to each other.

This is due to a tilt in Naiad’s orbit which is perfectly synchronised with Thalassa’s orbit, meaning the moon appears to wobble around its fellow moon.

Neptune Moon Dance: This animation illustrates how the odd orbits of Neptune's inner moons Naiad and Thalassa enable them to avoid each other as they race around the planet. Credit: NASA

Image: Naiad and Thalassa are Neptune’s innermost moons

“An observer sitting on Thalassa would see Naiad in an orbit that varies wildly in a zigzag pattern, passing by twice from above and then twice from below,” said NASA.

“We refer to this repeating pattern as a resonance,” explained Dr Brozovic.

“We are always excited to find these co-dependencies between moons,” said Dr Mark Showalter, a planetary astronomer at the SETI Institute, and a co-author of the new paper.

“Naiad and Thalassa have probably been locked together in this configuration for a very long time, because it makes their orbits more stable.

“They maintain the peace by never getting too close.”

'Free broadband': Does Labour's £20bn fibre rollout claim stack up?

Labour say they will deliver “the fastest broadband free to everyone” by 2030. Can they – and at what cost?

There have been lots of numbers flying around.

Labour say the plan will cost £20bn, whereas the Conservatives put it at £83bn.

BT itself claims the cost will be between £30bn and £40bn.

But one of the most authoritative recent estimates comes from the National Infrastructure Commission, which says it will cost just over £33bn.

Why is Labour’s number so different?

The National Infrastructure Commission breaks the cost into two: £26.5bn for building and connection and £6.9bn for operational costs.

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Although it’s not mentioned in the headline figure, Labour actually have that second point covered, at least in its costings.

They’ve allowed for maintenance costs of £230m a year, which they say will be covered by new taxes on tech giants like Google and Amazon.

Image: Estimates vary about the cost of rolling out full fibre broadband

Add that together over 30 years and you get an operational budget of £6.9bn, the same as the National Infrastructure Commission – although it’s worth pointing out that some experts believe this estimate is very conservative.

Even with the addition of the funds raised by the tech tax, however, there’s still a gap, which raises a crucial point.

The National Infrastructure Commission assumed there would be a competitive market like the one we have currently, and although it may create lower prices, competition also creates costs.

Rival providers lay fibre down the same street and fight for the same customers, duplicating each others’ resources and effort.

That’s why a review commissioned by the government in 2018 predicted that a national monopoly, like the one Labour is proposing, could save £6.2bn from the cost of rolling out fibre broadband.

Take that away from the National Infrastructure Commission’s £26.5bn estimate and you get a cost of a little over £20bn, just as Labour says.

Opponents will point out that there could be hidden costs like legal fees, if BT and other providers decide to sue the government.

There’s also an argument about whether you should count the cost of buying private companies – unlike Labour, the Tories do, which is partly how they get to £83bn.

And when it comes to practical implementation, the example of countries such as Australia show how easily this kind of plan can go wrong.

But on the question of price tags, Labour’s figure of £20bn is in line with the best available estimates.

Campaign Check scrutinises election claims made by political parties, examining if they are true or false, and the context. Sky News is working with Full Fact – the leading independent fact-checking charity.

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Apple launches Research app to gather customers' healthcare data

Apple is making a bid for its customers’ healthcare data by launching a new “Research app” which will collect information from iPhone and Apple Watch users and share it with academic studies.

The app is being pitched to Apple’s estimated billion customers as a way to “contribute to groundbreaking research studies”.

It is an opt-in programme which will share the data captured by Apple’s existing monitoring of users’ menstrual cycles, electrocardiogram sensoring, as well as a decibel measure to analyse the noise of the environment.

Image: The Research app will allow users to volunteer data to scientific studies

This data could be used in academic studies to improve the design of healthcare provision, which could then allow Apple to develop related apps.

Apple’s ECG app was cleared by regulators for use across the UK and Europe earlier this year, although GPs warned that patients alerted by their phone to possible heart abnormalities could increase pressure on already strained services.

The company’s chief executive Tim Cook has claimed that Apple’s “greatest contribution to mankind” would be through the health benefits that its software and fitness tracking devices could provide.

While annual sales of iPhones are declining for the Cupertino-based company, this is being offset by growing sales of Apple Watches, as well as other accessories and services.

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Healthcare data isn’t a new market. Technology giant IBM has spent more than $4bn (£3.1bn) to acquire companies for the data they hold on “patient lives” – lifetime medical data – during the past decade.

However, wearable and fitness tracking devices with healthcare apps including Apple Watch and Fitbit – which is set to be acquired by Google for around $2.1bn (£1.6bn) – are a growth market.

Google is looking to enter the fast-growing market for fitness trackers and smartwatches

Image: Google is looking to enter the fast-growing market for fitness trackers and smartwatches

At the time the Fitbit acquisition was announced, the company moved to reassure customers who were concerned about data confidentiality.

“The company never sells personal information, and Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads,” a spokesperson for the firm said.

However, it was unclear if this was a reference to “Google Ads” – the online marketing service, or a promise that the data wouldn’t be monetised in any form of advertising or market research.

Google is currently being investigated by the US government for a potential breach of privacy law regarding healthcare data it handled within a cloud computing project. The company says its activities were inline with the law.

Instagram making likes private for some UK users

Instagram is hiding the number of likes on some posts in the UK as part of a global trial to figure out how it can “remove pressure” on users.

People who are part of the test will be selected randomly.

Instagram is not revealing how many users will be involved, but advised those selected: “You’ll no longer see the total number of likes and views on photos and videos posted to Feed unless they’re your own.”

When the trial was first launched Mia Garlick, policy director for Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, said the goal was for users to feel less judged.

Image: ‘Likes’ have been described as one of the most toxic aspects of social media

“We hope this test will remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive, so you can focus on sharing the things you love,” she said.

The moves comes after some studies linked social media platforms to mental health difficulties for young people.

In August, nutritionists told Sky News they believed certain accounts on platforms like Instagram are to blame for the rise in people with eating disorders.

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Rhiannon Lambert, a nutritionist on London’s Harley Street, told Sky News: “Instagram is dangerous when it comes to food, so dangerous.

“For somebody that’s suffering from any type of mental health illness, especially orthorexia, with the variety of influencers claiming that what they eat can heal something or solve something, that’s not necessarily true and it can cause a condition to get even worse.”

Tara Hopkins, Instagram’s EMEA head of public policy, explained: “If you’re in the test, you’ll no longer see the total number of likes and views on photos and videos posted to Feed unless they’re your own.

“While the feedback from early testing has been positive, this is a fundamental change to Instagram, and so we’re continuing our test to learn more from our global community.”

insta diet

How ‘healthy eating’ on Instagram causes illness

Earlier this year, a poll carried out for the Royal Society For Public Health (RSPH) found that the like button was considered one of the most toxic elements of social media.

The findings came ahead of Scroll Free September, a month-long campaign encouraging people to take a break from social media.

RSPH chief executive Shirley Cramer said: “While we welcome steps by industry to mitigate harms related to social media use, it is notable that two of the most toxic elements of platforms are the like button and push notifications, elements specifically created by social media companies themselves.”

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