Six Years of Google Flu Trends - lessons learned and the future – Københavns Universitet

Six Years of Google Flu Trends - lessons learned and the future

Talk by Christian Stefansen, PhD, Google, London

Google Flu Trends, a service launched by Google.org in 2008, aims to provide real-time estimates (nowcasts) of flu activity data in more than 25 different countries and 40 languages. A sister product, Google Dengue Trends, monitors dengue fever in 11 countries. The primary advantages of Google Flu Trends are finer geographical resolution (it can provide city-level estimates), timeliness (estimates are available with less than 24 hours’ delay), and the ability to provide disease surveillance in countries that do not have official surveillance.

In this talk we look back on six years of Google Flu Trends, paying particular attention to the ’12/’13 season, during which Google Flu Trends overestimated the peak of the flu season in the United States. We discuss the factors that affect a search-based model’s ability to produce sound estimates about real-world phenomena and the different ways to mitigate them. The talk also explains the new, more robust, model launched in 2014. Finally, we discuss what we can learn from Flu Trends about big data and its limitations.