According to Google.org Flu Trends the aggregated search data can estimate flu activity in a state up to two weeks faster than traditional systems. The chart comparison with CDC data is impressive at showing the consistency between tracking search terms vs. using influenza surveillance data. Read about how it works and the FAQs. More background from the NYT in Google Uses Web Searches to Track Flu's Spread.
What about privacy concerns? Has Google stepped beyond the boundary of the "trust question" by providing aggregated search information to the CDC? It might depend upon the level of data that is being release to the CDC. Already anyone using Google Trends can get a certain level of aggregated information on a particular topic - for example "Flu".
Privacy is one thing but expectation is another. My experience in dealing with clients on privacy breach matters has lead me to believe that it is often not about whether something should or should not be private -- but rather it is a question of expectation by the person who trusted information with another party. Did that party do something with the information that was unexpected or not agreed to by the parties.
The discussion on privacy has started . . .
- Google To Track Flu Searches and Report Them to Feds? at Volokh Conspiracy
- Sick Surveillance: Google Reports Flu Searches, Locations to Feds at Drudge
- Google Flu Trends: A Glimpse into the future of Google Health at ReadWriteWeb
- Sick? Google Shares Health Searches with Government at CNET Technically Incorrect
- Google Introduces Flu Trends; Gets Red-Font Treatment on Drudge at U.S. Web
UPDATE: Interesting follow up thoughts by Mark Hawker and the potential use of Facebook Lexicon as a similar approach to tracking flu and other health conditions.Wasn't aware of Facebook Lexicon feature - interesting tool.