Google Flu getting flak

17 November 2008

It was bound to happen: a few days after announcing its flu trends service, Google is under fire from advocacy groups which claim their information gathering violates user privacy. The NY Times has the story today.

Google flu isn’t new: it uses search data in the same way that it has been used from the time search engines began. It just emphasizes the problems with search data that have always been there.

As I mentioned on TWiV #8, I think Google flu is too susceptible to ‘gaming’. It would be easy for a few thousand individuals to decide to start searching for disease terms and fool the search engine. What would be far better is what google.org is working on: real-time reporting of disease outbreaks which are fed onto a map of the earth. Click on a country and see the latest virus trends.