Wonder when you’ll get your first million? Ask God. Your next bout of the sniffles? Ask Google. For all those of you coughing into your sleeve or sipping your 20th cup of ginger tea, there’s some good news from the eggheads at the world’s reigning agony aunt. In the same week that Indonesia unveiled a new tsunami Early Warning System, Google has revealed one of its own to map the flu. Google Flu Trends claims it can sound out outbreaks almost a fortnight before the government by comparing search data with the surveillance system of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Basically, it rests on the shoulders of a new breed across the world that trusts its neighbourhood quack less than an online database. So every time that we sneeze six times in a row and run to our computers to check what that might portend, we’re only helping the guys at Google warn our neighbours to stay away. And how can these guys be really sure it’s not just a greenhorn doc or wannabe med student brushing up on the basics, but the Real Mc Coy? Well, they claim to have found a ‘close relationship’ between the info seekers and the sneezers who actually have flu symptoms.
But then as they say, seek and you shall find, for the possibilities are endless. Earlier this year, Google Trends came to the rescue of a pornographic website operator in Florida, whose attorneys decided to chart users’ search information to show that he was merely catering to a community sneakily receptive to content more obscene than Daniel Craig’s paycheck. Now there is a germ of an idea for Netizens of the world.