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SICK SURVEILLANCE: GOOGLE REPORTS FLU SEARCHES, LOCATIONS TO FEDS
Tue Nov 11 2008 15:34:50 ET
GOOGLE will launch a new tool that will help U.S. federal officials "track sickness". "Flu Trends" uses search terms that people put into the web giant to figure out where influenza is heating up, and notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in real time.
GOOGLE 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."
Engineers devised a basket of keywords and phrases related to the flu, including thermometer, flu symptoms, muscle aches, chest congestion and others.
Dr. Lyn Finelli, chief of influenza surveillance at the CDC: "One thing we found last year when we validated this model is it tended to predict surveillance data. 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."
Eric Schmidt, GOOGLE's chief executive vows: "From a technological perspective, it is the beginning."
Thomas Malone, professor at M.I.T.: "I think we are just scratching the surface of what's possible with collective intelligence."
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