Google DeepMind’s NHS deal under scrutiny

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The records collected by DeepMind went back over the past five years

A deal between Google’s artificial intelligence firm DeepMind and the UK’s NHS had serious “inadequacies”, an academic paper has suggested.

More than a million patient records were shared with DeepMind to build an app to alert doctors about patients at risk of acute kidney injury (AKI).

The authors said that it was “inexcusable” patients were not told how their data would be used.

Google’s DeepMind said that the report contained “major errors”.

It told the BBC that it was commissioning its own analysis and rebuttal, which the authors said they welcomed.

When the deal between London’s Royal Free Hospital and DeepMind became public in February 2016, some three months after the data started to be collected, it caused controversy over the amount of patient information being shared and the lack of public consultation.

Hal Hodson, a former New Scientist journalist, and co-author Julia Powles, a Cambridge University academic, said there are still big questions to be answered about the tie-up.

“Why DeepMind, an artificial intelligence company wholly owned by data mining and advertising giant Google, was a good choice to build an app that functions primarily as a data-integrating user interface, has never been adequately explained by either DeepMind or Royal Free,” they wrote.

The app contains no artificial intelligence although DeepMind has said that it was hoping to incorporate AI techniques to create smarter alerts in future.

The criticisms in the paper included:

  • Questions over whether DeepMind could be considered a mere data processor when it developed an app – Streams – that had direct impact on patient care
  • An absence of oversight or legally binding documents about how the data would be used
  • Questions about whether the device was correctly registered with regulators

In response, DeepMind and the Royal Free issued a joint statement: “This paper completely misrepresents the reality of how the NHS uses technology to process data.

“It makes a series of significant factual and analytical errors, assuming that this kind of data agreement is unprecedented.

“In fact, every trust in the country uses IT systems to help clinicians access current and historic information about patients, under the same legal and regulatory regime.”

The authors invited both to respond in an “open forum”, adding: “The obvious fact is that we care about Google and DeepMind getting into healthcare because it is a break from the norm.

“These companies are entirely different to specialised health IT and infrastructure providers, and the sweeping analogy does a disservice to the public.”


The NHS does have information-sharing agreements with a range of third-party firms, but this is the first such deal with a major US tech firm.

DeepMind’s initial assertion that the NHS had 1,500 other agreements with third-party organisations that process patient data has since been described by the NHS as “inaccurate”. There is no central database on how many there are, the BBC was told.

The app is currently the subject of an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office while the National Data Guardian, tasked with safeguarding health data, is also looking at it.

In a statement, the ICO told the BBC: “Our investigation into the sharing of patient information between the Royal Free NHS Trust and Deep Mind is close to conclusion.

“We continue to work with the National Data Guardian and have been in regular contact with the Royal Free and Deep Mind who have provided information about the development of the Streams app.

“This has been subject to detailed review as part of our investigation. It’s the responsibility of businesses and organisations to comply with data protection law.”

The National Data Guardian added: “Our consideration of this matter has required a thorough approach in which the NDG and her panel have kept patients’ rightful expectations of both good care and confidentiality at the forefront of discussions.

“The NDG has provided a view on this matter to assist the ICO’s investigation and looks forward to this being concluded as soon as practicable.”

Improved care

DeepMind has been at pains to make clear that none of the data collected for the app has been shared with parent company Google.

AKI is a serious condition, linked to 40,000 deaths a year in the UK and leading to a range of other health issues from minor kidney dysfunction to the need for dialysis and transplant.

In February, DeepMind published details about how the app was improving patient care.

It revealed that more than 26 doctors and nurses at the Royal Free are now using Streams and that each day it alerts them to 11 patients at risk of AKI.

Sarah Stanley, a consultant nurse who leads the patients at risk and resuscitation team, said: “Streams is saving us a substantial amount of time every day. The instant alerts about some of our most vulnerable patients mean we can get the right care to the right patients much more quickly.”

DeepMind has acknowledged that it could have done better in the way it engaged with patients whose data was being used and, on the back of the criticism, agreed to set up patient forums.

It published a strategy on future patient engagement which opens by saying: “Outcomes are better when patients and clinicians make decisions together.”

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Elderly ‘hit by line rental charges’

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Of the 2.9 million households with a landline only, 43% are occupied by people aged 75 and over

Recent increases in line rental charges have hit elderly people the hardest, according to an Ofcom report.

Between December 2009 and December 2016, line rental prices had increased by as much as 49% for some customers, the regulator said.

And of the people with standalone landlines in their homes, 71% were aged 65 or over.

Ofcom recently revealed plans to make BT – with nearly 80% of the UK market – cut line rental costs by £5.

A huge proportion (43%) of the 2.9 million households with a landline only are occupied by people aged 75 and over.

“Older consumers are particularly affected, as they are more likely to be dependent on fixed voice services if they do not have a mobile phone or an internet connection,” the report said.

Ofcom also said it was “concerned” BT’s low cost option for landline-only customers on certain qualifying benefits – BT Basic Tariff – had not been taken up by many of the households that could apply for it.

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BT has said line rental costs were recently frozen for customers with a phone line

The service costs £5.10 per month and provides customers with line rental and calls worth £1.50, with free calls at weekends to 0845 and 0870 numbers (up to 60 minutes).

“We… are working with BT, the Department for Work and Pensions and other organisations to raise awareness,” Ofcom said.

In a statement, BT said it had recently frozen line rental costs for customers with a phone line.

The firm added that customers had enjoyed changes including “a faster fault repair service, the launch of our free nuisance calls prevention service BT Call Protect and bringing call centre work back from India to the UK”.

Rise in access

Elsewhere in its report, Ofcom detailed new evidence for the increasing uptake of internet access among elderly people and people with disabilities.

One in five people with disabilities is still without such access, however, making them “much more likely than the population as a whole to face exclusion issues as a result of not being online”.

“Life costs more if you are disabled,” said James Taylor at disability charity Scope, who called for more to be done to get people with disabilities online.

The combined cost of higher energy bills and specialist equipment reaches on average £550 per month, according to Scope research.

“The internet provides access to tools to compare prices, access to the best deals and offers, and information which can help disabled people be savvier shoppers,” added Mr Taylor.

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Elderly people might struggle more than others to keep up with technology as it changes over time due to software updates

And elderly people continued to be frustrated by encouragements to use services online, instead of in person or via the phone, said Sally West at the charity Age UK.

In particular, having to adapt to how technologies changed thanks to frequent software updates was an example of how digital life could be off-putting for those in later years, she said.

“Every time there’s an update of an operating system or something like that – that’s a struggle for everybody – but if you’re new to using a computer or tablet, you can be thrown when things change,” Ms West told the BBC.

But while vulnerable people still faced difficulties and rising costs associated with some of their services, those who used home broadband and mobile data plans were getting an increasingly better deal, a separate Ofcom report on pricing revealed.

Some of the changes highlighted include:

  • The average cost of mobile plans including 500 minutes, 200 texts and 5GB of data fell from £57 in 2012 to £40 in 2016
  • People are spending less on telecoms services such as broadband and are getting more in return – with data usage up from 8GB in 2008 to 97GB in 2015
  • The cost of the cheapest home broadband bundles has fallen by 25% since 2009

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Russia denies Yahoo hack involvement

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied the charges

The Kremlin has denied allegations by US authorities that the FSB intelligence agency was involved in a huge data breach affecting Yahoo.

Two FSB officers were accused of conspiring with two alleged criminal hackers in a Department of Justice indictment announced on Wednesday.

The charges are believed to be the first that the US has filed against Russian government officials.

Yahoo’s 2014 breach affected 500 million user accounts.

“As we have said repeatedly, there can be absolutely no question of any official involvement by any Russian agency, including the FSB [intelligence agency], in any illegal actions in cyberspace,” said spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

US officials have alleged that two FSB officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, colluded with Karim Baratov and Alexsey Belan, who has been on the FBI’s most wanted list for more than three years.

Besides orchestrating the breach, the indictment alleged that Yahoo accounts accessed without authorisation were used to launch a spam campaign.

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Pakistan asks Facebook to help fight blasphemy

Students of Islamic seminaries shout slogans during a protest urging the authorities to block social media sites that are spreading blasphemous contents, in Islamabad, Pakistan, 08 March 2017.Image copyright

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Protests urging authorities to block social media sites spreading blasphemy have been held in Pakistan

Pakistan says it has asked Facebook to help investigate “blasphemous content” posted on the social network by Pakistanis.

Facebook has agreed to send a team to Pakistan to address reservations about content on the social media site, according to the interior ministry.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive and incendiary issue in Pakistan.

Critics say blasphemy laws, which allow the death penalty in some cases, are often misused to oppress minorities.

Earlier this week Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif voiced his support for a wide-ranging crackdown on blasphemous content on social media.

In a statement on his party’s official Twitter account, he described blasphemy as an “unpardonable offence”.

‘Should share information’

Then on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar reasserted Pakistan’s determination to tackle the issue, saying he would take “any steps necessary” to make sure Pakistan’s message gets across.

He said he had asked officials to liaise with the FBI in the US and with social media platforms on a daily basis.

“Facebook and other service providers should share all information about the people behind this blasphemous content with us,” he is quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.

In a statement quoted by the AP news agency, Facebook said it viewed government requests with care keeping in mind “the goal of protecting the privacy and rights of our users.

“We disclose information about accounts solely in accordance with our terms of service and applicable law. A Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty or other formal request may be required for international requests, and we include these in our Government Requests Report.”

Facebook has not confirmed whether it will be sending a delegation to Pakistan to address the concerns of the government.

Pakistan has often blocked access to pornographic sites and sites with anti-Islamic content and in 2010 a Pakistani court blocked Facebook over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

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Apple found guilty of Russian price-fixing

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iPhones, including the 6s Plus, had prices set by Apple’s Russian subsidiary, said the regulator

Russia’s competition watchdog has found that Apple fixed the prices of certain iPhone models sold in the country.

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (Fas) said that Apple’s local subsidiary told 16 retailers to maintain the recommended prices of phones in the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 families.

Non-compliance with the pricing guidelines may have led to the termination of contracts, it found.

Apple has not yet responded to a request for comment.

At the time of the investigation, Apple denied that it controlled its products’ pricing, telling Reuters that resellers “set their own prices for the Apple products they sell in Russia and around the world”.

The regulator said Apple had now ended its price-fixing practices but has not said whether the company faces a fine.

The FAS claimed that Apple Rus monitored the retail prices for the iPhone 5c, 5s, 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus.

“In the case of the establishment of ‘inappropriate’ prices, the Russian subsidiary of Apple sent emails to resellers asking them to change,” the watchdog said.

The deputy head of the FAS, Andrey Tsarikovsky, added that “Apple actively co-operated” with the investigation and that the company had “adopted the necessary measures to eliminate violations of the law”.

That included training employees in the “anti-monopoly legislation norms” in Russia.

In May, the FAS found that Google used its dominant position to force its own apps and services on users and fined it £5m ($6m).

And, in November, the regulator opened an investigation into whether Microsoft abused its position in the security market with Windows 10, following a complaint from Moscow-based anti-virus firm Kaspersky.

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Small drone ‘shot with Patriot missile’

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Patriot missiles are normally used to shoot down enemy aircraft or other missiles

A Patriot missile – usually priced at about $3m (£2.5m) – was used to shoot down a small quadcopter drone, according to a US general.

The strike was made by a US ally, Gen David Perkins told a military symposium.

“That quadcopter that cost 200 bucks from did not stand a chance against a Patriot,” he said.

Patriots are radar-targeted weapons more commonly used to shoot down enemy aircraft and ballistic missiles.

“Now, that worked, they got it, OK, and we love Patriot missiles,” the general said.

Recently, there have been reports that some groups, for example in Iraq, have taken to attaching weapons to small, commercial drones and using them against security forces.

However, Gen Perkins suggested deploying large surface-to-air missiles as a defence was probably not economically wise.

“I’m not sure that’s a good economic exchange ratio,” he told an audience at the Association of the United States Army’s Global Force symposium in Alabama.

“In fact, if I’m the enemy, I’m thinking, ‘Hey, I’m just gonna get on eBay and buy as many of these $300 quadcopters as I can and expend all the Patriot missiles out there’.”

‘Enormous overkill’

No further details of the encounter – such as where or how recently it took place – were given, but Gen Perkins did describe the party that launched the missile as “a very close ally”.

“It is clearly enormous overkill,” said Justin Bronk, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute.

“It certainly exposes in very stark terms the challenge which militaries face in attempting to deal with the adaptation of cheap and readily available civilian technology with extremely expensive, high-end hardware designed for state-on-state warfare.”

Mr Bronk also told the BBC that Patriot radar systems, while sophisticated, might struggle to target a small quadcopter effectively.

Patriot missiles were first produced in 1980 and are operated by 12 countries including the US, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The missiles themselves travel at five times the speed of sound, whereas a quadcopter drone typically has a top speed of 50mph (80km/h).

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US charges Russian spies over Yahoo breach

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The charges, announced by the US Justice Department, relate to a 2014 breach affecting 500 million Yahoo user accounts

Two Russian spies are among four individuals indicted by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) over a huge theft of Yahoo user accounts.

The members of the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency, conspired with criminal hackers, according to DOJ officials announcing the charges.

Previously, Yahoo said “state-sponsored” hackers were behind the 2014 breach affecting 500 million accounts.

The suspects are also alleged to have targeted Google accounts.

Hacking was directed at Russian and US government officials, including security, diplomatic and military personnel, according to the DOJ.

The indictment also alleged that 30 million Yahoo accounts were commandeered without authorisation for use in a spam campaign.

FBI ‘most wanted’

“We will not allow individuals, groups, nation states, or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens, the economic interests of our companies, or the security of our country,” said acting attorney general Mary McCord, announcing the charges.

The suspects were named in a DOJ press release as:

  • Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev, 33, a Russian national and FSB officer
  • Igor Anatolyevich Sushchin, 43, a Russian national and FSB officer
  • Alexsey Alexseyevich Belan, 29, a Russian national and resident
  • Karim Baratov, 22, a Canadian and Kazakh national and a resident of Canada

Baratov was arrested on 14 March in Canada.

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Alexsey Belan, one of the alleged hackers involved, has been on the FBI’s most wanted list

One of the alleged hackers has been on of the FBI’s most wanted cyber criminals for more than three years, according to acting Att Gen McCord.

The suspect in question, Alexsey Belan, was aided by the FSB who – according to the DOJ – provided him with “sensitive FSB law enforcement and intelligence information that would have helped him avoid detection by US and other law enforcement agencies outside Russia”.

“We would hope [Russia] would respect our criminal justice system and respect these charges,” said acting Att Gen McCord, acknowledging the fact that the US does not have an extradition treaty with Russia.

“The United Kingdom’s MI5 made substantial contributions to the advancement of this investigation,” added FBI executive assistant director Paul Abbate.

Personal data stolen

Yahoo was criticised for the delay in informing users about the 2014 breach.

The stolen data included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and encrypted passwords, but not credit card data, according to Yahoo.

Last year, users were advised to change their passwords.

Media captionWhat if Yahoo hackers have my details?

Around eight million UK accounts were believed to have been affected – including some users of BT and Sky email services.

“The indictment unequivocally shows the attacks on Yahoo were state-sponsored,” Yahoo said in a statement, responding to the DOJ announcement.

“We are deeply grateful to the FBI for investigating these crimes and the DOJ for bringing charges against those responsible.”

The DOJ said that the charges have no connection to the hack on the Democratic National Convention last year.

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Big data unites the study of stars with cancer research

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The Milky Way can be analysed by algorithms

The study of the stars and the fight against cancer may seem to have little in common but the two have been brought together by the algorithms that read big data.

Every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data – 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone.

This amount of data has in turn driven a revolution in ever smarter computers that can make sense of all that information.

Medicine is just one area benefiting from this closer relationship between information and machines.

The collaboration between astronomers and oncologists began at a cross-disciplinary meeting in Cambridge to discuss data management.

At the meeting, Dr Nicholas Walton, an astronomer, met James Brenton from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

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Big data algorithms are advancing the study of cancer

Prof Carlos Caldas, who also works at Cancer Research UK, explains what happened next.

“Astronomers are looking at pictures of the sky, but they can’t sift through millions of pictures by hand, so they use imaging algorithms that can analyse and classify objects,” he says.

“We obtain images from humans. Could we deploy the same algorithms to read that data?”

The answer was yes and the algorithm has been advancing the study of cancer ever since.

“Using the astronomy algorithm, we can automatically classify hundreds of thousands of cells, we can look at patterns, how cells are related to each other, we can precisely count them and find the average distance between cells,” Prof Caldas says.

“It speeds up diagnosis and allows us to glean information that had previously been glossed over.

“It is completely transforming pathology into the digital realm.

“The sky is the limit.”

Scientists at Cancer Research UK have just announced a breakthrough in the way they “read” breast cancer cells.

It means that they are now able to create a 3D map that links the shape of breast cancer cells to genes turning on and off, matching it to real disease outcomes.

It is not just the diagnosis of disease that can be transformed by big-data insights.

“Data is exploding but so is the technology and that understand and exploit it,” said Nick Millman, a managing director at consultancy firm Accenture.

“In health, the techniques that have previously been used in marketing analytics that have allowed brands to understand an individual’s preferences can be applied to wellness – how to encourage someone to follow a healthier diet, for instance.”

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What can a Facebook “like” say about you?

Big data is the key theme of an exhibition currently running at London’s Science Museum, which looks not just at how it is transforming industry but also how our own data footprints are affecting our privacy.

Sheldon Paquin, the exhibition’s curator, told the BBC: “This silent revolution has completely changed everything about our lives, from how we look to the stars, to our trips to the doctor, to how we talk with one another. We imagine the modern world to be fast-paced, connected and interwoven with technology, all things that we owe inescapably to big data.

“We can now examine the evolution of language, search the genome for disease, navigate cities yet to be built and identify our common fears. Our increased connectivity is making us easier to read.”

The exhibition features a study done at Cambridge University, which illustrates how easy it is to read our personalities via Facebook likes.

Volunteers were asked to complete a series of personality tests and that was compared with their Facebook data.

“We found we could predict personality as accurately as a spouse from the average person’s Facebook likes,” said David Stillwell.

“We could predict intelligence, personality traits, age, gender, religious views.”

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Predictive World invites users to see what cities might know about them

Now the team has turned its attention to working out how much data we share with our increasingly smart cities – in a partnership with games publisher Ubisoft to promote its futuristic city game Watch Dogs 2.

Just as Watch Dogs, which is based in a city run by an operating system that collects and analyses data on every citizen, Predictive World assumes that privacy will be a distant concern in our future urban environment.

The tool generates psychological predictions from users’ Facebook data as well as finding relationships between gender and salary, location and crime risks, personality and life expectancy.

But can citizens turn their data footprints to their own advantage?

CitizenMe is one of a growing number of firms that aims to offer people the chance to better understand the data that is collected on them as well as allowing them to sell it.

It enables people to collect copies of their data from around the internet and put it into an app on their phone.

“These insights and data quickly become very valuable. If they wish to, citizens can choose to anonymously exchange some data for immediate cash reward,” explained StJohn Deakins, the founder of the company.

The app is currently being trialled with about 10,000 people.

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How much data?

  • 350,000 tweets every minute
  • 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • three million Facebook posts uploaded every minute
  • four million Facebook “likes” every minute
  • four million Google searches every minute
  • 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are now circulating around the world, 90% of which has been created in the past two years
  • a total of 44 zettabytes of data will be in circulation by 2020

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California mulls driver-free car tests

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Google is a prolific tester of driverless cars in California

The California Department of Motor Vehicles is considering new regulations to allow driverless cars without back-up drivers to be tested on its roads.

Currently 27 manufacturers have a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California.

However there must always be a human being in the car.

Google’s driverless car company Waymo said that in 2016 it drove 636,000 miles in the state and required 124 human interventions.

This was down from 341 in 424,000 miles in 2015.

The new proposals include a framework for how the testing would work and also what would be required by manufacturers to make the vehicles available outside the tests.

“These rules expand our existing autonomous vehicle testing programme to include testing vehicles where no driver is present,” said Jean Shiomoto, director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

“This is the next step in eventually allowing driverless autonomous vehicles on California roadways.”

The department is now inviting written feedback until 24 April.

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Hands-on with the jacket with Google woven in

A partnership between Levi’s and Google has yielded the Jacquard, a denim jacket with technology woven into the fabric.

Once paired to a smartphone via Bluetooth, the jacket allows the wearer to control key functions with just a brush or tap of the cuff. A double tap with two fingers, for example, starts or stops music.

The BBC’s North America technology reporter Dave Lee tried it on for size.

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC (

Video journalist: Cody Godwin

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