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Understanding health-related searches

(Cross-posted from Official Google Blog)

As we blogged last summer, there are lots of experiments running on Google web search all over the world. Today we've started a temporary experiment that some people might find interesting: we're researching how Google users search the Internet when they or someone they 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. This is not a permanent change, but a short-term experiment. A small percentage of random health-related searches will trigger the poll question.

For example, at the bottom of the search results for [headache], some users will see a survey which asks whether they were searching because they or someone they know has a headache:

Similarly, if you happen to search for [ibuprofen], a common anti-inflammatory drug, you might see a survey which asks whether you were searching because you or somebody you know is taking ibuprofen:

Data collected in this survey will be aggregated across thousands of users. Survey responses will be stored together with the original search query, but will not be associated with email addresses or other personally identifiable information. Survey data will not be used for advertising — it will only be used to help Google improve health-related search results and to help refine public health trends based on aggregated search queries, much like Google Flu Trends. You can learn more about how Google protects users' privacy at our Privacy Center.

For more information, please take a look at our FAQ.

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