Google Flu Trends was launched in November 2008, but what has become of it since?
Google Flu Trends uses people’s Google searches to assess influenza activity across the US. It is a daily update of the number of people in different areas who use particular search terms, indicating they might be suffering from flu. At the moment it is just in the US, but it may be developed for other countries.
Google claim that it can “accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports”. (Google Flu Trends website) Whilst this is impressive, what has the information actually been used for?
Most of the media attention focused on the ethical issues surrounding Flu Trends, such as whether it is an invasion of privacy. Now that people seem to have accepted Flu Trends, perhaps the focus should be on how it can actually be used in reality, not just in theory.
There was a lot of talk of how the information could theoretically be used, for example Google say that it “may enable public health officials and health professionals to better respond to seasonal epidemics”. Are there any professionals using it? Or are any individuals using it?
It is hard to imagine anyone in the US regularly checking Flu Trends in their state to decide whether or not to be in contact with people. Theoretically they could use it to advise them whether or not to get a flu vaccine, but will anyone actually do this?
It would be a real shame if such an impressive resource goes to waste. Please inform us if you use Flu Trends.
Google Flu Trends: http://www.google.org/flutrends/