Your WIRED.co.uk daily briefing. Today, UK intelligence services are revealed to have been gathering bulk personal data of British citizens since 1998, detailed maps of Zika's optimal habitat show 2.2 billion people living in at-risk areas, Google has been charged with breaking EU competition law with its Android mobile operating system and more.
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Documents obtained by Privacy International show that UK intelligence services have been collecting bulk personal data about UK residents since 1998, including information extracted from passports, travel records, financial data, telephone calls, emails and numerous other sources (The Guardian). Internal MI5 documents reveal that the datasets "contain personal data about individuals, the majority of whom are unlikely to be of intelligence or security interest" as well as financial data, and indicate that staff have been both warned about both trivial misuses of the records and fired for making large-scale unauthorised searches. The data was gathered using powers granted under section 94 of the 1984 Telecommunications Act. Privacy International legal officer Millie Graham Wood said that "this highly sensitive information about us is vulnerable to attack from hackers, foreign governments and criminals. The agencies have been doing this for 15 years in secret and are now quietly trying to put these powers on the statute book for the first time in the investigatory powers bill."
An international effort to map the areas in which the Zika virus is best able to thrive has shown that 2.2 billion people live in areas that are at risk of harbouring the virus, which is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito (BBC). Dr Oliver Brady of the University of Oxford said that "these are the first maps to come out that really use the data we have for Zika – earlier maps were based on Zika being like dengue or chikungunya. We are the first to add the very precise geographic and environmental conditions data we have on Zika." The maps show that large areas of South America's coast and Amazon river region are at risk, as are the US states of Florida and Texas and enormous regions of Africa and Asia, which have not seen a significant number of cases in the current outbreak.
Google has been charged under EU competition laws for "abusing its position" with its Android operating system (WIRED.co.uk). Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, said her staff had found that Google's Android operating system had breached EU competition law. "Google pursue[s] an overall strategy on mobile devices to protect and expand its dominant position on internet search," Vestager said at a press conference. She added that "unjustified restrictions" had been placed on manufacturers to prevent competition. Google's senior vice president and general counsel Kent Walker, responded to the Commission by saying the company is looking forward to working with the Commission. "Android has helped foster a remarkable and, importantly, sustainable ecosystem, based on open-source software and open innovation," he said.
Facebook has extended Messenger's voice calling feature to allow users to start group audio calls with up to 50 people (TechCrunch). The feature will initially come to Android and iOS users of the dedicated Messenger app, and will roll out around the world over the coming day. The feature allows you to invite anyone who's in a group chat with you, whether you're Facebook friends with them or not, in a move that could give more traditional VoIP chat providers such as Skype a run for their money. However, unlike the one-to-one version, video calls are not yet available.
A billboard placed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is designed to simulate human skin to lure and trap potentially Zika-bearing mosquitoes from up to 2.5 kilometres away (Motherboard). The sign is lit with fluorescent light and emits carbon dioxide to simulate a breathing mammal and a mist that contains lactic acid to simulate sweat, all of which attracts mosquitoes, which then crawl inside the inescapable box. The board's designers, Brazilian advertising agencies Posterscope and NBS, have released full specifications for the billboards online, so others can build their own sweaty mosquito traps.
Scientists from Harvard University in the USA have re-engineered the CRISPR/Cas9 gene-cutting enzyme to allow it to made single-point changes to DNA, effectively altering a single letter of a gene (Nature). Co-author Chemical biologist David Liu notes that "the majority of disease-associated human genetic variants are point mutations, but current genome methods correct point mutations much less efficiently and much less cleanly than we can disrupt a gene." The team disabled the Cas9 enzyme to prevent it from cutting DNA and then fused it with another enzyme, capable of converting one specific DNA letter to another. The latest version has achieved a 75% success rate in correcting mutations associated with Alzheimer’s disease in mouse cells.
Solar Impulse 2, a fully solar powered plane piloted by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, will be taking off on the next leg of its flight later today, after being grounded in Hawaii since July 2015 due to battery problems (PopSci). The Swiss pair aims to be the first to circumnavigate the globe through solar flight, with the goal of both breaking records and increasing awareness of the potential of clean energy. The next leg of the journey will take them from Hawaii to Mountain View, California in a planned 62 hours.
Just over a decade after its launch, Microsoft has announced that it's ceasing production of the Xbox 360 (PCMag). The company says that it'll sell off its remaining inventory and that it will continue online support for Xbox 360 users, who'll also still be able to access to Xbox Live and play their existing games. Over its prodigious lifespan, Xbox 360 gamers clocked up 78 billion hours of play and 27 billion achievements Head of Xbox Phil Spencer said that "I am incredibly proud of all of the work and dedication that went into development of the Xbox 360 hardware, services and games portfolio over the last decade. And I'm grateful to the fans for their continued passion and support."
9. Sega Mega Drive classics to allow modding on Steam
Sega has announced that a fresh of the main interface for its Mega Drive Classics collection on Steam will for the first time allow users to mod the games and release content for them via Steam Workshop (The Verge). The update's coming on 28 April, along with an improved launcher called the Mega Drive Classics Hub. It's an unusual and potentially savvy move, as enthusiasm for modding old games continues to drive their potential audience to third-party emulators and bootleg ROMs. The company promises that "every single Mega Drive game" will be ultimately available to mod via Steam Workshop.
Alcon Entertainment has announced a firm worldwide date for the release of the sequel to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner: 6 October 2017 (Deadline). That's three months earlier than the previously scheduled January 2018 date and will both land it in the middle of awards season and put it up against some potentially significant competition, including an as-yet-unspecified Fox/Marvel film that's speculated to be a potential Deadpool sequel. Blade Runner 2, set decades after the original 1982 film, will continue from the original story and feature Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling.
Yiddish may have originated in Turkey, not Germany
The origins of the Yiddish language have been traced to north-eastern Turkey, according to results from a DNA analysis tool. By analysing the genetics of Yiddish and non-Yiddish speakers, researchers from the University of Sheffield were able to calculate that the language originated from four villages in north-eastern Turkey. Established theory had suggested Yiddish was first spoken in Germany.
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