Tag Archives: Google

Predicting flu outbreaks? Google as epidemiologist

Predict: v. to declare or indicate in advance ; especially : foretell on the basis of observation, experience, or scientific reason

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of the night with mysterious aches and pains? Your doctor is asleep, so you can’t call him till morning, but you want to know what the hell is wrong.  Who ya gonna turn to?

Google Flu Buster!

Google’s philanthropic arm Google.org has just instituted a 21st century way of tracking and perhaps predicting flu outbreaks.  The service will do this by aggregating searches for such terms as “muscle aches”, “fever and chills,” “flu symptoms.” It tracks and charts the ebb and flow of such queries, broken down by regions and states. For now they’re only doing it in the US.

I’m not sure how they know where I live… this is a little scary. How much else do they know about me?

Here’s more info from the NY Times today:

Google Flu Trends (www.google.org/flutrends) is the latest indication that the words typed into search engines like Google can be used to track the collective interests and concerns of millions of people, and even to forecast the future…

Early tests suggest that the service may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some public health experts say that could help accelerate the response of doctors, hospitals and public health officials to a nasty flu season, reducing the spread of the disease and, potentially, saving lives.

It could also offer a dose of comfort to stricken individuals in knowing that a bug is going around.

Besides tracking infectious diseases, search engines can also predict other things:

Researchers have long said that the data sprinkled throughout the Web amounts to a form of “collective intelligence” that could be used to make predictions. Commercial Web sites mine this information to predict airfares or home prices.

But the data collected by search engines is particularly powerful, because the keywords and phrases that people type into search engines represent their most immediate intentions. People may search for “Kauai hotel” when they are planning a vacation and for “foreclosure” when they get in trouble with their mortgage. Those queries express the world’s collective desires and needs, its wants and likes.

Big Google is watching you…


Proliferation: to grow by rapid production of new parts, cells, buds, or offspring; to reproduce freely.

Proliferation was on my mind today as I forced myself to face my garden, where the weeds have been having their annual spring fling. The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the healthiest weeds I’ve ever seen. Dandelions are unusually vigorous this year – I’ve seen plants a foot tall, with a dozen huge cheery blooms from one deep root. Those spots of golden sunshine will soon be hundreds of tiny airborne seeds. Prevention by early digging is the key. I’m late.

Back inside, I discovered proliferation in the virtual realm:
I Googled myself.

Talk about reproducing freely!

The last time I looked myself up was maybe two years ago. Since then the search engine has found me in corners so dusty I’ve long forgotten them.

My current name, which I’ve had since 1982, has eight pages of listings. Of course some of those are for other people with the same name, and many of them are repeat versions of one or another thing I did or wrote or said in relatively public venues, but a surprising number are from sources that I had no idea would find their way to a Google search: a mass email address update from an acquaintance in 2001; comments I’ve made on someone else’s blog; contributions I made to political campaigns; annual reports from agencies where I’ve served on the board or some such.

So then I Googled my maiden name, a name I left behind in 1967. There were even a couple of entries there.

And I’m just a regular gal with a variety of interests. It’s troubling to discover how many threads of my life are out there for the world to follow (if they were so inclined). A private eye would find me in about two minutes.

How does one get rid of unwanted Google listings??? Or keep out of Google’s eye in the first place?

It must be possible, because recently I hit several brick walls when trying to track down a couple of high school classmates to invite them to a reunion. They were both fairly well-known in their fields; both men (so they didn’t lose their last names to marriage). One had a name that was so common as to be impossible to figure out which, if any, was the right one. The other simply wasn’t to be found.

I hate to stop doing anything public just because it adds to my already dubious dossier – what to do?