It’s that time of year again where hospitals, clinics, and stores start advertising flu vaccines. As we transition into the winter flu season, no doubt you “health minded” groovyReaders would like to know the Flu Trends in your area. Google Flu Trends was launched November 2008 as a collaboration of searches related to “the flu” and the location and geographic area they originated. Over the past year they have upped the game, and Thursday morning 16 additional countries have been added to the flu tracking program which now covers a whopping 37 languages.
How does it work?
People who have the flu or know someone who does, usually do internet searches for; you guessed it “the flu.” Google not only uses search terms to define flu data but they also collaborate with reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure further accuracy. Interestingly Google realizes a 0.92 correlation with the official U.S. flu data.
This year the charts are showing that the flu season is starting a couple of months earlier than it has in past years. The question arises, though, that because of the constant headlines all summer about Swine Flu, the Google Flu trends might not be accurate. Google has the following response:
What we do not use in the models is a term like [swine flu] since people are more likely to type that into Google because they want to know more information about it, given the news headlines, and not because they actually have H1N1 or swine flu.
Once on the site, you can click on each Country or Region to get a detailed map of the region. From there you can drill in to get even more detailed Trending data. Looking at the trending for North America you can see the Flu season is starting early this year, spiking in September rather than in February. Swine flu? Panic? Or?
Why Beneficial? How can I use Google Trends?
I’m sure there are several ways this data can be beneficial. Here’s a few I thought of:
- Government/Public Health agencies can use this data (I think…) to determine staffing levels and overall public heath.
- Retailers can use this data to determine how/when they should stock their shelves in various states/countries around the globe.
- Taking a vacation? You might want first to see how sick the population is. No fun going on vacation and getting sick while your’re there or bringing it home to your family and co-workers.
- If people are getting sick, generally they take some medication to fight the symptoms. Looking at the charts, this is going to be a bumper year for the Flu and possibly flu drug corporations. Perhaps this is a good time to buy stock in some of those companies? :)
- Lastly, it’s FUN! I sent a few emails to friends and relatives with trends screenshots. I might also have made jest of how sick their state appears to be…
Should I be worried that Google knows I’m Sick?
Google only shares personal information with other companies or individuals outside of Google in the following limited circumstances:
- We have your consent. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information.
- We have a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request, (b) enforce applicable Terms of Service, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues, or (d) protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, its users or the public as required or permitted by law.
Google indeed owns a wealth of data, and I appreciate their exposing such groovy data in such a positive way as Google Trends!