FluTrends from Google: Information Innovation

November 12, 2008

Making big news yesterday was the announcing of Google FluTrends.  The idea is simple: use search trends and data to track the spread of the flu virus throughout the country.

Google has long been able to track everything that people are searching for, and they have used that data to find trends, recommend certain search phrases, and track where their users go for answers.  Most people that use Google may not realize this, but they know a whole lot about you by “watching you search”.  This has brought up privacy concerns for a long time, but the company built on the motto “Don’t be evil” seems to be using this data to help people.


Google FluTrends is one example of an innovative way to use this information for good.  Google can see where their users are searching for things like “flu symptons”, “flu shots”, or anything else flu related.  Now obviously there will be people with the flu that don’t search, and people who search it just for information and not because they have it, but overall this system works well.

Now, even the government is taking interest.  Whereas normal health reporting agencies will notify when and where the flu is most active within 10 days, Google FluTrends can do it almost instantly.  In many ways, it can predict the outbreak, and help health officials prepare.  The goal is to get the vaccination in the hands of those that need it most before things get too bad.

In my opinion, when a company like Google has this type of information, they have a moral responsibility to use it to help people.  And if this new “product” proves useful this flu season, it is an ingenious way to use their power for good.

For more information on projects they are working on at Google, visit www.google.org.