Google got a lot of attention recently for the launch of Google Flu Trends
, which looks at aggregate data on searches related to the flu, to see if it can act as something of an early warning system for where there are flu problems. It's an interesting use of the data, and it will be worth watching what else can be done with this sort of data over time. However, Ed Felten raises an interesting question: can Google Flu Trends be manipulated
? The idea is that, right now, it may be accurate, but the very fact that people know Google is tracking this information, could create incentives to game that info -- in the same way people have tried gaming Google in other ways for years, using tricks such as Google bombing
. While you might not think there would be that many reasons to manipulate Google Flu Trends, there could be reasons to do so. Google is being somewhat secretive of how Flu Trends is set up, so perhaps that makes it more difficult to manipulate, but it does point to an interesting issue in using data in this manner. As soon as you've set up a system to measure the data, and made that public, is the data still reliable?