Experiment To Understand Health-Related Searches


Why is Google asking me if I or someone I know is feeling sick?
Understanding how people search when they're feeling sick is an important problem to solve, as it can help improve projects like Google Flu Trends, which uses aggregated search data to detect influenza epidemics. Statistics gathered in this experiment may also help Google deliver more relevant search results in the future. For example, someone who searches for [arthritis pain] to understand why an aging parent is experiencing joint pain might want to learn about nearby health facilities and potential treatments, whereas somebody who searches for [arthritis pain] because she is doing a research project might want results about how common arthritis is and what its risk factors are. Rather than make educated guesses about how many users are searching because they're sick, we're running this experiment to collect real statistics.

Why does Google want to know whether people are searching because they're sick or because they're merely curious?
Lots of people use Google to find answers to their health-related questions, but determining user intent from a search query is often challenging. Google Flu Trends researchers found a close relationship between how many people search for certain flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. However, many users frequently search for diseases and symptoms out of curiosity or in response to news headlines. This experiment will help us gather statistics on why and how people search for health-related information. Understanding user intentions may enable us to do a better job providing services like Google Flu Trends and improving our search results for health-related queries.

How is this related to Google Flu Trends?
Google Flu Trends uses aggregated search query trends to estimate flu activity levels across the United States and Mexico. Data from this experiment will be used to better understand the motivation behind many health-related searches and may enable us to produce more accurate estimates.

What triggers this poll question? How often will this pop up?
A small percentage of random searches for health-related topics will trigger the poll question while the experiment is running.

How did Google decide what search terms to use for this poll?
We're surveying users about a variety of search terms related to health. We recognize that asking users questions about their personal health or the health of someone they know must be handled with great care and sensitivity. We seek to avoid asking about issues which are excessively embarrassing, immediately life-threatening, involve mental health, may involve illegal behavior, or pertain to sexual behavior.

How long will these poll questions appear?
This survey is an experiment. We're not sure what the results will be and how many people will respond, but we anticipate that this will run for something on the order of several weeks.

Do I have to answer the poll?
No. The poll is opt-in only, so we invite those who are comfortable participating to do so.

Will this survey be shown to all users around the world who search for health-related terms?
No, the survey will be displayed at the bottom of the search results page to users from United States IP addresses only. The poll question will appear only for a randomly-selected small percentage of health-related searches.

Is my poll answer combined with other information Google has about me, like my Gmail address?
If you choose to answer the poll, your answer will not be associated with your Google Account, Gmail address, or other personally identifiable information. We will use the answer together with our search server logs for internal research on improving search results and to help improve Flu Trends or similar services. Also, individual poll answers will not be shared outside of Google.

What information is logged when I answer the poll question?
Google’s servers automatically record information when you respond to this poll, including a cookie, IP address, browser type and language, and the date and time of your answer. The cookie is the same cookie used in our search server logs, and is what we will be using to study anonymous historical query patterns in our research. Like our search server logs, poll responses will be anonymized in accordance with Google's standard logs retention policy. We anonymize IP addresses after 9 months and cookies after 18 months. Also, you can always use your browser to set your cookie preferences or clear Google's (or anyone else's) cookies at any time.