November 26, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Google Flu Trends

Why you should be concerned about Google Flu Trends

The search engine has unwittingly hung a big sign on itself advertising services for government surveillance

The title's fine, though when I submitted it I proposed "Google Flu And Monitoring Health". I was aiming for a deliberate ambiguity in the phrase "monitoring health" between the literal sense of seeing where is sickness and more metaphorical sense of good safeguards against misuse of private data. Maybe I was being too clever.

I know many people have written on this topic, but I really tried to capture the double-edged nature here. That is, the conflict between "That's so cool" for technical achievement, and "That's so scary" in terms of potential for abuse. As I think of it: Technology-positive social criticism.

I'm hoping to popularize a phrase I've used here: "surveillance engines"

[For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein |]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , press | on November 26, 2008 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
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Love the notion of "surveillance engines".

Posted by: Michael Zimmer at November 27, 2008 10:13 AM

Seth - I'm sure Twitter would be a better place to track flu with the advantage that tweets are public.

Totally agree that this is government (or corporate) surveillance. I wonder if Google use their search engine 'exhaust' data before making investments, partnership deals, or other financial moves. I wonder if that could be considered insider trading?

Posted by: Nic Fulton at December 2, 2008 01:47 PM