Sunday, March 18, 2012

Can You Use GPS to Avoid the Flu?

sickweather screenshotThere are all kinds of apps for your smartphone that are designed to use GPS to help improve our lives. Some of them are incredibly useful, and others…well, they are mostly just odd. Joining the ranks of odd (and slightly creepy) apps is the app Sickweather.

The idea behind Sickweather is to map out places where people are sick by scanning social media like Facebook and Twitter for people posting they aren’t feeling well, and then using GPS to see where they are. The app then puts it on a map so you can see where the sick reports are and follow trends of illnesses. That’s the idea, anyway. And while the theory sounds kind of useful, when you stop and think about it… well, it isn’t.

Available as an app or simply streamed through their website, Sickweather comes off as a little creepy in my opinion. Because, really, does knowing someone in your apartment building is sick really help or change anything? I suppose it might make you more likely to take preventive measures, but you probably ought to be doing that stuff anyway.

You can either download the app for your iPhone to get push alerts when entering a ‘sick zone’ or simply log on to Sickweather’s website and take a look at the reports in your area from the last few days. Here is an example of the national map showing the common cold in the U.S. yesterday:

It could just be me, but it looks a little bit like some sort of zombie plague, but in reality many of those light colored blobs are simply someone reporting sniffles. The skeptic in me wonders if this app is going to make people more paranoid, but I’m not really much of one to worry about the cold. I think I’ve had one flu shot my whole life.

I could definitely see some uses for such an application. Information on places where sicknesses are rampant would be very useful for the elderly or those undergoing medical treatment that would make them susceptible to getting ill. And, really, this app isn’t that much different from the sorts of trends that governmental organizations like the CDC follow. An article posted by Fox21 says that Sickweather is actually a little faster at picking up trends than the CDC. Still not something I personally would ever use.

But what do you think? Is mapping out illness trends via social media useful or creepy? Let me know in the comments!

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