Google helps CDC track flu clusters

Google helps CDC track flu clusters

Summary: Google will work with the Centers for Disease Control to track flu trends. The game plan: Capture data on searches related to flu, chest congestions and colds and report back to the CDC.


Google will work with the Centers for Disease Control to track flu trends. The game plan: Capture data on searches related to flu, chest congestions and colds and report back to the CDC.

Google made the announcement in a blog post.

The Drudge Report reported the story with a little Big Brother flair, but you have to admit that information can be useful to the CDC. If there's a breakout of influenza in Birmingham, Alabama chances are Google would know before the CDC.


All that's fine, but the Google-CDC collaboration could be viewed as a bit creepy although I might appreciate the Thera-Flu ad that would inevitably run near my search. Individuals wouldn't be tracked.

Google explains:

Last year, a small team of software engineers began to explore if we could go beyond simple trends and accurately model real-world phenomena using patterns in search queries. After meeting with the public health gurus on's Predict and Prevent team, we decided to focus on outbreaks of infectious disease, which are responsible for millions of deaths around the world each year. You've probably heard of one such disease: influenza, commonly known as "the flu," which is responsible for up to 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. If you or your kids have ever caught the flu, you know just how awful it can be.

Our team found that certain aggregated search queries tend to be very common during flu season each year. We compared these aggregated queries against data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and we found that there's a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week. As a result, if we tally each day's flu-related search queries, we can estimate how many people have a flu-like illness. Based on this discovery, we have launched Google Flu Trends, where you can find up-to-date influenza-related activity estimates for each of the 50 states in the U.S.

The CDC does a great job of surveying real doctors and patients to accurately track the flu, so why bother with estimates from aggregated search queries? It turns out that traditional flu surveillance systems take 1-2 weeks to collect and release surveillance data, but Google search queries can be automatically counted very quickly. By making our flu estimates available each day, Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza.

The question to you: Is this useful or too Big Brother-ish? I'm opting for the former.

Topics: Government US, Google, Government, Mobility

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  • So it has begun

    First they will track every search related to flu for the CDC.

    Then next they will track every search related to guns, and report back to th ATF.

    Then next Google will give the DHS all searches related to "terrorist'.

    How much of our souls is Google willing to hand over in the name of their almighty bottom line?
    • Where does any of this mention Google's "bottom line"

      I see "help CDC" but no where do I see "paid for by the CDC." Jump to conclusions much?

      Regardless, don't cough on me I get sick easy...
      • The ad part, I think

        [i]All that?s fine, but the Google-CDC collaboration could be viewed as a bit creepy although I might appreciate the Thera-Flu ad that would inevitably run near my search[/i]

        They do make their money from ads.
  • RE: Google helps CDC track flu clusters

    Opting for the former? What does a guy have to do to become big brother? Actually be in your house?

    This is sick sick sick. I hope that a million people a day start searching for word flu just to kill this monstrosity.

    I am selling all Google stock today. I don't care about the loss. Who do they think they are? I am so done with them.

    Spying on all of us. Reporting to the government. I don't care if it is to the CDC. All it takes is a group of enterprising teenagers to cost this country or rather, me, millions of dollars of misinformation as they all decide to mess with Google's data. And, lord, I hope they do!

    I hope this is the biggest failure in Google's history and I hope that every stock player out there shorts their stock tomorrow.
  • RE: Google helps CDC track flu clusters

    I think it's a great idea and I hold no illusions that my online activities are anonymous in any way. Just because someone tells you they are going to track certain things, doesn't mean it isn't already happening. To think that this in anyway impinges on your ability to surf anonymously is just crazy. I'd suggest you use extreme caution when planning your murder or other illegal activities online, chances are that someone is already watching....

    Just my humble opinion...
    Bee Jay
  • RE: Google helps CDC track flu clusters

    OK first. The I-Net is not private. Never was and never will be. It is a public forum. Wich means as far as I am concerned the Government and or any Corperation you deal with has the freedom to look at what you are doing online. Now as to post individuals, well that might tread in privacy waters, but does it realy.
    What Google is doing is a good thing. Proactivly trying to help US and the Government determine were a possible breakout of some sort of disease or sickness can and will help resonce teams. Anyone who is against this usually are the first ones to complain were is teh Government when I need them.
  • RE: Google helps CDC track flu clusters

    1. The CDCP ( True name is Center for Disease Control and Prevention ) cannot find it's butt with both hands.
    2. The flu is a virus, not curable once caught, you can only attempt to treat the symptoms.
    3. So Memphis has a flu outbreak, do we do what ? Quarantine the whole town ? How about the usual bureaucratic around, scream and shout, defecate profusely.
    4. The whole issue is a ...non issue.
    5. The CDCP and Google both need to get a life.
  • RE: Google helps CDC track flu clusters

    If you think that anything that you do online is ?private?, you need to read more. The government already tracks phone and internet traffic for ?key? words like bomb and assassinate in probably every known language.

    I wouldn?t be surprised to get a call about this post. ;-)
  • RE: Google helps CDC track flu clusters

    Um, yah, there are law enforcement agencies as well as private entities who try to track what people do online. Some of the tracking is interested in the particular persons (e.g. FBI tracking of key words), some of it isn't so much (e.g. Google Adwords).

    People need to be a bit more sane about this. There are some kinds of privacy that are worth worrying about and protecting, and other kinds of privacy that we never had to start with.

    If Google is tracking where in the country folks are looking for relief from flu-like symptoms, that's not worth worrying about, and it's worthwhile doing. Whether folks think the CDC can deal with the information effectively isn't really germane to the issue, nor is the question if Google is adding to their bottom line.

    What you really want to ask yourself is how this country got into a position where our health care infrastructure is so fragile that we can't rely on reports from doctors or hospitals to track the outbreak of an epidemic.

    If you're going to toss around words like creepy or Big Brother, try thinking a bit about what you're saying before jerking your knee all over the place.