What do you think of Google Flu Trends?

google-flu-trends

I’ll admit it, I’m sucker for Google products – Reader, Gmail, Docs, Blogger, Chrome and I know on some level the dangers of that.  I have lots of bookmarks in delicious about it.  This morning while I was watching the news  I heard mention of something new – Google Flu Trends.  According the the site:

We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries from each state and region are added together. We compared our query counts with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and discovered that some search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening. By counting how often we see these search queries, we can estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States.

I’m not certain why this disturbs me, I think I want to know how Google knows where I am when I search.  If I go into a computer in my library and do a Goolge search for Flu how do they know I’m in Jefferson City? How?  I looked in the FAQ and How Does This Work section and don’t see it.  I’m sure someone will leave a comment and let me know.  But I’m not sure that will make my unease go away.  Think of everything else they *could* track.  

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6 comments for “What do you think of Google Flu Trends?

  1. Kelley
    November 12, 2008 at 9:04 am

    There are ways to geolocate, by IP I’m assuming. Considering the insane amount of information Google Analytics collects about website users it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they set some kind of auto locate on searches for flu or like keywords. (Though now I’m sounding like a conspiracy theorist.)

    I’m a big fan of Google products too, but I get nervous about how much they track me. That’s why after using e-mail/reader I always log out so that Google can’t follow me around the rest of the web like they do.

  2. November 12, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Yep – it’s all IP based. Check http://www.geobytes.com/IpLocator.htm?Getlocation to see what info you give out to every site you visit. Some track it, some don’t, but because of the nature of the technology, you are giving out this information to every site – unless you use an anonymizer, which we block here at the library. ’bout the only way to avoid giving out information on the web is to not use it…

  3. lilaclee
    November 12, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Do you use toolbars? They keep track of where you go too. I don’t use many products that want to keep track (spy) on my walk around the Internet. We can’t get away from all of them but there is a price to pay for collecting all kinds of data. It makes us susceptible to our personal data getting out there and misused.

  4. Francesca Smith
    November 14, 2008 at 2:58 pm

    the book Feed by TM Andersen has a very dystopian take on ultra-individual data mining – Not an uplifting happy book.

  5. November 14, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    I don’t know how they track where you are, but I admit I had never heard of this Google flu trends…. very interesting indeed! Thanks for the heads up!

  6. November 15, 2008 at 3:13 am

    We are nearing 2014… http://robinsloan.com/epic/

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