Google Uses Search Engine Data to Track Flu
Google has launched a new tool called Google Flu Trends, designed to track influenza by using search terms based on what people enter into the search engine.
Many people run to the Internet when feelings of sickness come on. Studies show that between 35 and 40 percent of visits to the Internet are related to health information. A popular search term such as “flu symptoms”, is an example of what Google is using to track where influenza is popping up around the U.S.
"We've discovered that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity," Google said in a statement.
"What this does is it takes Google search terms of influenza-like illness and influenza and it emulates a signal that tells us how much influenza activity there was," Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of influenza surveillance at the CDC, said in a telephone interview.
Google states that by using this tool they may be able to detect flu outbreaks at least a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"One thing we found last year when we validated this model is it tended to predict surveillance data," Finelli said. “The data are really, really timely. They were able to tell us on a day-to-day basis the relative direction of flu activity for a given area. They were about a week ahead of us. They could be used ... as early warning signal for flu activity."
Currently this service only covers the United States, but Google is hoping to use the same technique to track the flu and other diseases worldwide.
Google has stated that they will keep individual user data confidential, so there is no worries that someone will find out what you are searching for.
For more information, check out Google Flu Trends.