GOOGLE will launch a new tool that will help federal officials “track sickness”.
SICK SURVEILLANCE: GOOGLE REPORTS FLU SEARCHES, LOCATIONS TO FEDS
“Flu Trends” uses search terms that people put into the web giant to figure out where influenza is heating up, and will notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in real time!
GOOGLE, continuing to work closely with government, claims it would keep individual user data confidential: “GOOGLE FLU TRENDS can never be used to identify individual users because we rely on anonymized, aggregated counts of how often certain search queries occur each week.”
Drudge paints a 1984-esque picture of the whole project. Not surprisingly, the first news article the pops up on Google is much more flattering:
Google has applied its massive data-collecting power for the first time to prediction of the spread of disease, with the launch of a site that claims to be able to raise the alarm over flu outbreaks up to two weeks in advance of existing public services.
Google Flu Trends takes the general search tracking technology pioneered by Google Trends and applies it specifically to influenza. The firm’s engineers claim to have devised a way of analysing millions of individual searches related to the disease that in tests proved to correlate closely with the actual incidence of illness. That gives them the potential ability to predict rises in flu cases – information that could be used by health professionals to warn the public or plan their responses.
The ability to speed up the response of health services could prove invaluable in the event of a vicious outbreak, or the emergence of a virulent strain.
The results of Google’s comparisons with official health statistics will be published in the science journal Nature.
Google hopes to extend the service to other countries, and may in time include other illnesses.
So is this “just the beginning,” as Eric Schmit, CEO of Google proclaims? Or the beginning of the end?
Either way, don’t ask Google Suggests.