Information search giant Google, Inc. announced Thursday the release of Google Body, a search service aiming to index the internal and external anatomy of every living creature on the planet. "Google has long been dedicated to making information both useful and universally accessible," notes Google VP of Product Development Eric Hind. "We're happy now to extend search to information about human bodies, mine and yours, inside and out, from the number of follicles on my head to the length of the President's toenails."
The project, known as Google Body, sees the company partnering with public transportation systems, libraries, and motor vehicle departments to place scanning equipment in high-traffic doorways and public thoroughfares. Though details of the agreements are scarce and reportedly subject participating city and state officials to strict non-disclosure terms, Google's announcement confirmed that the project is active in several major U.S. population centers, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City, with agreements with at least 16 other cities in late-stage negotiation. "We've passed proof-of-concept at this point," adds Hind, "and now our focus is scalability and rolling this thing out nationwide."
The service, which has been available for some three months to invitation-only beta testers, enables users to search for aggregate information about the anatomy of user-defined groups. "The service is a boon to the medical research community," says Dr. Jennifer Guns of the Johns Hopkins Clinic for Specialism. "Nothing will replace truly controlled trials, but the ability to get a snapshot of, say, the blood pressure of men between 50 and 65 on New York's Upper East Side, can certainly give companies an idea of where they might best spend their research dollars."
Early testers have remarked upon a fuzzy-logic "match my organ" feature, which helps users get in touch with the nearest, most suitable donor for multiple organ systems. "We think of Body as way to bring people together," remarks Google's Hind. The most common searches among testers, however, exploited the service's ability to produce three-dimensional images of the bodies of individual subjects. "I was shocked when I saw it," exclaims Larry Blender of Carson City. "I mean, one, where did they get a 3-D rendering of my ass, and, two, does my ass really look like that? I admit that I satisfied some of my curiosity about a few of my neighbors and co-workers before I thought to search for myself, but I was still really shocked to see it up there."
The service has understandably raised concerns among privacy activists, who point to reports that early users include some well-known insurance companies and two prominent executive recruiting firms. "You know what the top two search terms are, after 'ass'?" asks David Deerfield of People and Privacy, a privacy-focused community outreach group. "They're 'aorta' and 'arterial plaque.' Who do you think is conducting those searches? There's no doubt in my mind that there are insurance company bots scouring this thing and we think it should stop."
Responding to criticism from privacy groups, Google's Hind pointed to the program's opt-out policy. "We are very concerned about user privacy, and that's why we will not make publicly available any information about anybody who let's us know they do not want to participate by wearing an Opt-Out headband when in public. Google archives information about those individuals, but does not make it searchable." The yellow and black vinyl headbands can be requested free of charge by writing to the company at its Mountain View headquarters.
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