Google is tracking your every sniffle and sneeze beyond just the general health of your body. If you aren’t feeling well — and i fyou have the flu, and if you happen to chance upon Google to help you find a remedy — your want to feel better is indexed, quantified, and panopticonically reported to the CDC by Google.
Does your illness belong to you or to the greater good of society?
Google believes your well-being belongs to them:
Each week, millions of users around the world search for online health information. As you might expect, there are more flu-related searches during flu season, more allergy-related searches during allergy season, and more sunburn-related searches during the summer. You can explore all of these phenomena using Google Trends. But can search query trends provide an accurate, reliable model of real-world phenomena?
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 found 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.
Are you creeped out a bit that Google is taking your private search and making the result public?
Google brags their ability to track flu trends — before they formally announced they were tracking flu trends — was better than the CDC’s:
During the 2007-2008 flu season, an early version of Google Flu Trends
was used to share results each week with the Epidemiology and
Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC. Across each of the
nine surveillance regions of the United States, we were able to
accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than
published CDC reports.
This graph shows five years of query-based flu estimates for the
Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, compared against influenza
surveillance data provided by CDC’s U.S. Influenza Sentinel Provider
Surveillance Network. As you can see, estimates based on Google search
queries about flu are very closely matched to a flu activity indicator
used by CDC. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future
results. Our system is still very experimental, so anything is
possible, but we’re hoping to see similar correlations in the coming
Google claims their flu trends tracking is anonymous, but we are also aware Google already knows everything about us and the fact that they’re reporting something means they know something specific about us that is valuable enough to evaluate and quantify and spill to the authorities.
In the exposure of Google Flu Trends, we are seeing a real time version of how Google’s panopticonic tracking works our wants and evaluates our needs and secretes our secret desires.
We just aren’t seeing the public graphing for — “Google Menses Chocolate Wants Trends” or “Google Super Bowl Snack Chips Trends” or “Google Obama Trinket Sales Trends” — but we know that information is in Google somewhere and it is all being shaped and sold to the highest bidder for personal fortune and private profit.