Google and The Flu

Recently Google announced how their flu tracking system worked using data from Google trends. While I appluad Google for thier open discussion, I personally believe this logic is flawed. It’s a systemic problem that occurs throughout Google because of their insular workflow and thought process (see how could so many PHD’s be wrong). IMHO google trends doesn’t really take into account Adversarial Infomation Retrieval (AIR) or “gaming the system”. Any real-time or near real-time system is going to have a vulnerability to creativly inclined people who are motivated by their own self interest and greed. Google trends like google news runs without human intervention. While this type of system can work really well and run for years without incident, eventually these systems encounter something they weren’t designed for and something goes wrong (see Google Publishes Old News Story). The world we live in with is increasingly reliant on machines making decisions based on input, and if a piece of bad data gets in just the right spot a cascade of failures occur, fear takes over and anarchy is the result.

It has already been demonstrated that Google Trends can be abused and hacked, and I’m not the only one who thinks hacking and AIR are converging. With the current economic climate where financial markets are ripe with fear, what’s to prevent someone from manipulating google trends for financial profit.

What if someone were creative enough to use something like the recent puppies webcam that gets distributed via social networks like twitter to open a small iframe or popunder that executed a pre-programmed query on google … No one will share a penny stock email but everyone will share cute overload style puppy pictures.

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