For years now, the CDC tracks the spread of influenza each year beginning in early October. They receive reports from emergency rooms, hospitals and doctors nationally and publish that data on their website – generally about two weeks after the fact.
But here comes Google with Google Flu Trends and a totally new way to find out what is happening out there in real time. Who is sick enough today to be googling flu remedies? Who is wondering how long their ailing spouse is going to be home?
Google Flutrends tracks computer users web searches for words related to flu – influenza, flu, fever, flu remedies, etc. And it appears that Google is accurately trending the spread of flu two weeks ahead of the CDC. All we can say is Wow!
Of course, there are already naysayers. Google insists it is tracking and using anonymous aggregated data to conduct its trending analysis. The folks at EPIC , the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking federal officials to disclose how much user search data the company has recently transmitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, as part of Google Flu Trends.
But the implications for predicting a flu pandemic and being able to take precautionary action at an earlier point are signficant. And its potential tracking other infectious diseases and other types of illness is incredibly exciting.
Google does it again…