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Google asks users about symptoms for Carnegie Mellon coronavirus forecasting effort

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Monday that over the last three days it had surveyed some users about their health at the request of Carnegie Mellon University researchers aiming to forecast the spread of coronavirus infections.

Google’s Opinion Rewards app, which exchanges responses to surveys from Google and its clients for app store credit, queried users about whether anyone in their household has “a fever of at least 100 degrees along with a sore throat or a cough,” according to a question seen by Reuters.

“At the request of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) 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,” Google spokesman Matt Bryant told Reuters. “People have to opt in to take the survey and the information the researchers will receive is aggregated and completely anonymized.”

A CMU spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Google said it has ongoing partnerships with many academic institutions, including CMU. The university’s DELPHI group has worked on forecasting flu trends in the United States for several years. The group earlier this month said it planned to apply its research methods to help track COVID-19, the deadly respiratory diseased caused by a novel coronavirus first detected at the end of last year in China.

Google said the survey also was sent through websites and apps with whom it partners to distribute questionnaires.

In addition, the company said any surveys collecting health-related information include a special warning before users see the questions.

Last week, Google launched a U.S.-focused website that consists of resources and links focused on COVID-19.

Verily, another company within Alphabet, created an online screening tool to help direct people in three California counties to testing sites for the virus.

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