Google creates project to follow influenza outbreaks

04 Dic Google creates project to follow influenza outbreaks

The Daily Collegian Online, PA, By Mike Ramsingh, December 3, 2008
Google could now be used to stay healthy. Google Flu Trends, a new project undertaken by the company, will attempt to prove a correlation of influenza-related Google searches in a geographic area with influenza outbreaks, according to a post by developers Jeremy Ginsberg and Matt Mohebbi on the official Google blog. “We found that there’s a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week,” they wrote in the blog. The study will combine Google search records with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics to geographically map incidences of influenza and corresponding Google searches. Theoretically, Google’s data could be used to determine areas of need for influenza information and vaccines. Gerry Santoro, professor of information, sciences and technology, said Google Flu Trends could be a useful flu indicator if it can prove a strong correlation. “What they’re hoping is that they can show where the queries are originating from and where the flu spreads,” he said. “If that bears out, it could prove to be a powerful tool.” Beth Collitt, marketing manager for University Health Services (UHS), said though UHS uses the CDC as its main source of information, it has also been keeping an eye on Google’s application. “We are aware of the flu tracker and watching it to see how good it could be,” she said. “But basically, we look at the CDC for most of our information.” Students take an even dimmer view of Google’s latest effort. Thomas Kiscadden (junior-media studies) said the Google program excludes a lot of people who may not have a computer or don’t use the search engine. “I don’t think it sounds like a foolproof way,” he said. Dominique Reed (senior-international politics) said she thinks traditional tracking methods are more accurate than Google searches. “Grassroots methods are more reliable,” she said. Reed also said she doesn’t like the idea Google can track any search made by its users. “I think it can turn into something really intrusive,” she said. “Kind of Big Brother-ish.” Santoro said anybody who uses the Internet should do so under the assumption it is not private — Google has every right to use the data it collects, he said. “It’s … terribly naive to assume that it’s being done in a completely secure and private environment,” he said. “People have to realize there is very little privacy on the Internet.”