Google’s Big Data Flu Predictions Overestimate Illness by 50%

A group of scientists have said that Google, Facebook and Twitter could be looking at big data incorrectly after they found errors in the search-giant’s flu predictions.

Researchers from the University of Houston, US, have analysed Google’s Flu Trends tool which aims to predict levels of flu in real-time around the world.

The trending tool looks at search terms from across the globe to estimate flu activity around the world. But the researchers found that Google’s tool overestimated the prevalence of flu during the 2012-13.

They claim that it overestimated the actual levels of flu in 2011-12 by more than 50%, and found that between 2011 and 2013 the trends tool over predicted the prevalence of flu in 100 out of 108 weeks.

The report also questioned the use of data collection from platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The scientists questioned how easy it is for campaigns and companies to manipulate these platforms to ensure their products are trending, for example in polling trends and market popularity.

“Google Flu Trend is an amazing piece of engineering and a very useful tool, but it also illustrates where ‘big data’ analysis can go wrong,” said Ryan Kennedy, University of Houston political science professor.

He said: “Many sources of ‘big data’ come from private companies, who, just like Google, are constantly changing their service in accordance with their business model.

“We need a better understanding of how this affects the data they produce; otherwise we run the risk of drawing incorrect conclusions and adopting improper policies.”

The flu trends tool is part of Google’s range of trending information that allows users to explore around topics based on the number of searches that are happening around the world.


The Google Flu trends website says: “We have found a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. Of course, not every person who searches for “flu” is actually sick, but a pattern emerges when all the flu-related search queries are added together.

“We compared our query counts with traditional flu surveillance systems and found that many search queries tend to be popular exactly when flu season is happening.”

Kennedy question the use of big data and said it is important to use many sources, he said: “Our analysis of Google Flu demonstrates that the best results come from combining information and techniques from both sources.

“Instead of talking about a ‘big data revolution’, we should be discussing an ‘all data revolution’, where new technologies and techniques allow us to do more and better analysis of all kinds.”

GN ReSound introduces first hearing aid that works with the iPhone

The humble hearing aid, which started out as nothing more than an an ear trumpet in the 17th century, has been bought into the modern age: the first hearing aid has been made for use with the iPhone.

The new device is capable of streaming high-quality stereo sound from Apple devices without the need for an additional pendant-like device, and combines with a mobile app to enable users to customise the sound they are hearing.

It has been produced by hearing aid technology company GN ReSound which claims the device is the first that connects with the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch directly using a new chipset and Bluetooth technology.

The hearing aid has been made to stream music, phone calls, FaceTime calls and any sounds that can be played from the Apple devices, making the technology available to those who are hard of hearing.

It is intended to help give users of portable technology the ability to use it in the same way that those with perfect hearing can do. In theory the product can help users to connect with the latest technology and applications that they may not have been able to do while using conventional hearing aids.

The hearing device acts like wireless stereo headphones but also works as a conventional hearing aid. It has the potential to improve the hearing and lifestyles of those who have been unable to use the latest mobile phones and applications to enhance areas of their lives.

The smart hearing aid can also be controlled by the user’s mobile phone, allowing them to turn the volume up or down, adjust the bass and treble and more depending on the situation they find themselves in.

In one of its most revolutionary uses the hearing aid’s location can be found by the iPhone when it has been misplaced or lost.

ReSound’s CEO Lars Viksmoen said the company wanted to use their technology and combine it with the latest in mobile devices to help more people improve their hearing.

“We saw an opportunity to create the world’s best hearing aid by combining the capability of GN ReSound’s life-changing technologies with the compatibility and global prevalence of iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

“We are committed to improving people’s lives through use of innovative technology and look forward to more people correcting their hearing with this new technology – a triumph in accessibility for the hearing impaired.”

GN ReSound is an international developer and manufacturer of hearing healthcare solutions.

Since its formation in 1943 it has been responsible for a number of hearing industry firsts including having the first system to eliminate howling and sound distortion.

You can find out more about the new hearing aid in the video below

Image and video courtesy of GN ReSound.