Google even knows when you'll get the flu

Well, not you exactly. Just the people in your state (so no need to call out the privacy watchdogs--yet)

. As another flu season approaches, Google has launched a new tool--called Google Flu Trends--that uses the frequency of flu-type search queries to predict the onslaught of the flu. Turns out that the queries correlate fairly closely with statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But rather than waiting one to two weeks for CDC-gathered data, Google Flu Trends provides an instant snapshot. So you can run right out and get your flu shot, before the season peaks in your area.

According to the Official Google Blog post announcing the tool, Google figured out that certain aggregated search queries were very common during flu season each year. And when they correlated the frequency of the terms with CDC data, they found they could build a fairly accurate map of where the flu was striking and how many people were affected. Because the data is available quickly, Google says it may help the CDC and other public health officials head off new flu epidemics before they become major killers, like the flu pandemic of 1918.

Google says it has aggregated hundreds of billions of individual searches, going back to 2003. But wait, how long does Google keep all that search data anyway? Not to worry, Google says:

"Of course, we're keenly aware of the trust that users place in us and of our responsibility to protect their privacy. Flu Trends can never be used to identify individual users because we rely on anonymized, aggregated counts of how often certain search queries occur each week. The patterns we observe in the data are only meaningful across large populations of Google search users."

And once you see the flu approaching via Google Flu Trends, you can then use the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's Flu Shot Finder to find a flu shot clinic near you. Isn't the Web wonderful?

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.