Links for 2014-03-14

  • Health privacy: formal complaint to ICO

    ‘Light Blue Touchpaper’ notes:

    Three NGOs have lodged a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner about the fact that PA Consulting uploaded over a decade of UK hospital records to a US-based cloud service. This appears to have involved serious breaches of the UK Data Protection Act 1998 and of multiple NHS regulations about the security of personal health information.
    Let’s see if ICO can ever do anything useful…. not holding my breath

    (tags: ico privacy data-protection dpa nhs health data ross-anderson)

  • Why Google Flu Trends Can’t Track the Flu (Yet)

    It’s admittedly hard for outsiders to analyze Google Flu Trends, because the company doesn’t make public the specific search terms it uses as raw data, or the particular algorithm it uses to convert the frequency of these terms into flu assessments. But the researchers did their best to infer the terms by using Google Correlate, a service that allows you to look at the rates of particular search terms over time. When the researchers did this for a variety of flu-related queries over the past few years, they found that a couple key searches (those for flu treatments, and those asking how to differentiate the flu from the cold) tracked more closely with Google Flu Trends’ estimates than with actual flu rates, especially when Google overestimated the prevalence of the ailment. These particular searches, it seems, could be a huge part of the inaccuracy problem. There’s another good reason to suspect this might be the case. In 2011, as part of one of its regular search algorithm tweaks, Google began recommending related search terms for many queries (including listing a search for flu treatments after someone Googled many flu-related terms) and in 2012, the company began providing potential diagnoses in response to symptoms in searches (including listing both “flu” and “cold” after a search that included the phrase “sore throat,” for instance, perhaps prompting a user to search for how to distinguish between the two). These tweaks, the researchers argue, likely artificially drove up the rates of the searches they identified as responsible for Google’s overestimates.
    via Boing Boing

    (tags: google flu trends feedback side-effects colds health google-flu-trends)

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