/>
X
Business

Little Brother actively tracking the flu

The A1N1 "swine flu" outbreak of 2009 will stand as an example of what Little Brother can do without collecting anything special.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

One of the more common fears on the Internet is that of Big Brother collecting data and learning new things.

The A1N1 H1N1 "swine flu" outbreak of 2009 will stand as an example of what Little Brother can do without collecting anything special.

There is even a new buzzword to describe the trend -- "infodemiology." You can see it in action at sites like Google Flu Trends (from which this map was taken).

You can also get inside it at sites like HealthMap. Right now Healthmap is featuring a very scare Google Map on its home page, filled with electronic pushpins. Each represents a data point in the story of the current outbreak.

But zoom in, as I did, to a typical American city like Atlanta. There you will find a single pushpin, linking to two stories about an outbreak of the flu at Georgia Tech.

You can also adjust your view of the map by clicking and unclicking sources of information.

The page is a mere demonstration, based on Google Maps and a crawler that seeks news stories. But you can also have it seek data on outbreaks near you and alert you by cell phone.

Add more data and you get more information. Some public agencies are using online questionnaires to do "contact tracing," which gives them an alert when outbreaks start. The CDC gets similar results from a network of 2,500 doctors.

The government  has sought to use the Internet to track threats for years, but it works both ways. The CIA has seen agents' cover blown through the use of basic Internet resources. And then there are the continuing reports that Facebook is a CIA cover.

The power of Google, and other online resources, to track disease or anything else is not in dispute, and not something people are willing to give up. So while you're all worrying about Big Brother I would prefer to worry about Little Brother.

Editorial standards