Internet users around the United States have reported being asked sensitive health information from Google Surveys before being able to access some news stories, according to social media. The surveys, according to the company, are to help researchers gather data that will help forecast the spread of the disease in the United States.
The research is being conducted through Carnegie Mellon University which is helping to stop the spread of the virus by predicting when and where it will spread the worst, next. Surveys for the research is being powered by Google’s Opinion Reward App, which is usually used as a way for businesses to conduct market research on their products or services.
Users must opt into the survey, but will then be asked a series of questions about their health.
Before being able to enter a webpage, a pop up from Google shows up to ask users information about the health of their household. Users can opt out of the survey, but the initial question on many surveys asks users about whether or not a member of their household has a fever.
From there, the data is sent to researchers who will use the information to forecast the spread of the virus in real time. The questionnaire abides by Google’s existing health policy, which states that surveys conducted through the Surveys system cannot ask questions that are personally identifiable.
The threat of misinformation has fueled racism around the world against people of Asian descent, while also giving people false information on how to treat the virus should they be exposed.
“At the request of Carnegie Mellon University researchers working to help forecast the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., we recently began running a Google Survey questionnaire asking people if they have flu-like symptoms. People have to opt in to take the survey and the information the researchers will receive is aggregated and completely anonymized,” said Google in a statement to Grit Daily.
The company confirmed that the information taken as part of the survey on Google Surveys will not be saved to a data profile for future use. Google has been heavily involved with the COVID-19 crisis from the start. The tech company developed a symptom checker earlier this month that would allow users to screen themselves for the virus before heading to a nearby testing center. The website has not only helped combat the overflow of patients arriving to hospitals seeking a test kit, bit enabled millions of people to find valuable information on how they can seek treatment in their area.
Editors Note: A previous version of this story said that the surveys were conducted through Google Ads and linked to a tweet that showed a survey that was not part of the CMU research program. We have since updated the piece with accurate information.