A new study shows that using big data to pre­dict the future isn’t as easy as it looks—and that raises ques­tions about how Internet com­pa­nies gather and use information.

Big data: as buzz­words go, it’s inescapable. Gigantic cor­po­ra­tions like SAS and IBM tout their big data ana­lytics, while experts promise that big data—our expo­nen­tially growing ability to col­lect and ana­lyze infor­ma­tion about any­thing at all—will trans­form every­thing from busi­ness to sports to cooking. Big data was—no surprise—one of the major themes coming out of this month’s SXSW Inter­ac­tive con­fer­ence. It’s inescapable.

One of the most con­spic­uous exam­ples of big data in action is Google’s data-​​aggregating tool Google Flu Trends (GFT). The pro­gram is designed to pro­vide real-​​time mon­i­toring of flu cases around the world based on Google searches that match terms for flu-​​related activity.

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