Predicting Flu Season With Google Flu Tracker

Armen Hareyan's picture

Google Flu Tracker uses search terms as an indicator of flu activity by state. People's searches for flu symptoms and information on flu is tracked by Google Flu Tracker and Trends database helping to understand when and how the next flu season will come.

According to Flu Trends the aggregated search data can estimate flu activity in a state up to two weeks faster than traditional systems. The chart comparison with CDC data is impressive at showing the consistency between tracking search terms vs. using influenza surveillance data. Read about how it works and the FAQs. More background from the NYT in Google Uses Web Searches to Track Flu's Spread.


What about privacy concerns? Has Google stepped beyond the boundary of the "trust question" by providing aggregated search information to the CDC? It might depend upon the level of data that is being release to the CDC. Already anyone using Google Trends can get a certain level of aggregated information on a particular topic - for example "Flu".

Privacy is one thing but expectation is another. My experience in dealing with clients on privacy breach matters has lead me to believe that it is often not about whether something should or should not be private -- but rather it is a question of expectation by the person who trusted information with another party. Did that party do something with the information that was unexpected or not agreed to by the parties.

The discussion on privacy has started. What do you think about the Google Flu Tracker? What other health related symtpoms and trends will be tracked tomorrow?

Reported by Health Care Law Blog.