Is Google the New CDC?

Yesterday, Google announced Google Flu Trends, which uses “aggregated search data in an effort to confront the challenge of influenza outbreaks.” (From the Google Flu Trends site):

“We’ve discovered that there is a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Our estimates, based on up-to-date aggregated Google search data, may indicate flu activity up to two weeks ahead of traditional flu surveillance systems.”

It’s an important project but I wish it provided more opportunities for the public to participate in the scientific processes of observing, recording, and comparing data. Like the Great Influenza Experiment (a Citizen Science project) hopes to do. At least, I think that’s what it intends to do…not much information on their 2-page website.

A quick glance at today’s flu prediction map of the U.S. hints that folks in North Carolina and Tennessee might be eating more fruits and veggies than their bordering neighbors to the north and south. 🙂

Google’s Flu Trends can  accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

Are we bearing witness to the transformation of “big government” in its traditional form to “personalized government” via web-enabled technologies? 

Before you answer, consider this: It’s not just the Flu Google is targeting: 
“Google.org’s Predict and Prevent initiative supports efforts to identify hotspots where new infectious diseases may emerge, detect new pathogens and outbreaks earlier, and respond quickly to prevent local threats from becoming global crises. The Google Flu Trends team worked closely with the Predict and Prevent team as the product was developed, and we continue to look for ways to use Google’s tools and products to predict and prevent infectious disease outbreaks and other emerging threats.”