EPA to Use Twitter to Track Illness-Related Tweets

Posted: Jan 23, 2014 4:30 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a new plan this year to quickly pinpoint the locations of acute gastroenteritis infections: they're hoping to read and aggregate people's tweets.

From the Washington Examiner:

The agency is shopping for a company that can search for those terms and several others to determine how many people in the country are suffering from “acute gastroenteritis infections,” or AGI, and where the hot spots are. The agency wants to compare the tweet results with figures from the Centers for Disease Control.

“The following example search terms are considered evidence of AGI: Stomach flu, stomach bug, stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea,” said the EPA’s notice to contractors just posted.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. As an active Twitter user, I can say with confidence that the vast majority of the people I follow do not tweet out explicit symptoms when they're sick, so I question how useful this program actually would be. Also, the idea of the government reading thousands of tweets that include the phrase "vomit" just seems a little bit like Big Brother.