back to article Bing web searches may reveal you have cancer (so, er, don't use Bing?)

Search engine results can be a useful predictor for cancer and can even beat doctors to the mark, according to new research from Microsoft. In a paper published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, a Redmond team detailed how, by analyzing data from Bing users who looked up symptoms of pancreatic cancer, they could get an …

  1. Tom Chiverton 1

    " they could get an accurate diagnosis between 6 and 32 per cent of the time"

    I'll stick with tossing a coin.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And that was based on people they knew had cancer. What would those numbers look like if they also included all the people binging those symptoms for other reasons?

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Worse. I can think of a number reasons for symptom search were the searcher does not have a specific disease. Also, many diseases in the early stages have similar symptoms which means any "diagnosis" is murky at best.

        1. VinceH

          Yes... the amazing revelation we can draw from this is:

          For some people who's searches relate to $disease it may be that they are exhibiting symptoms for $disease and might therefore have $disease and have yet to be diagnosed, or even checked for $disease. On the other hand, they might not.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Exactly! And how do they discriminate between multiple users of the same computer? eg two or more family members looking up separate symptoms which together might indicate a cancer.

      There's lies, damned lies and statistics. And then there's statistics derived from data with poor or no provenance.

  2. MotionCompensation

    What kind of illness causes people to use Bing in the first place?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Windows 10 perchance?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The one where you are running from Google bu trip up before making a full recovery at DuckDuckGo?

    3. Nolveys

      Brain cancer?

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I'm curious why they would even try to correlate this unless there's maybe a market with either health insurance companies or drug companies. Just peculiar...

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      US Drug market

      Have you ever seen US TV?

      It is full of adverts for all sorts of drugs. Some have really serious side effects but that have to tell you in the adverts about ALL of them so the voice runs at about 500 word/min.

      Becuse Healthcare in the USA is really, really, really big business with billions and billions of USD at stake, even a bit of extra data about increasing (or decreasing) levels of a particular disease could be worth a huge amount of money to Big Pharma.

      Sadly the error range in this study makes it as accurate as me putting £10 on the 16:30 at Haydock and expecting my choice of old nag to win.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: US Drug market

        Big Pharma

        That's Bing Pharma now.

  4. Schultz Silver badge

    Statistically challenged

    "get an accurate diagnosis between 6 and 32 per cent of the time, with an error rate of 0.00001 per cent."

    So if 6-32% of diagnoses were accurate, it follows that 94-68% of diagnoses were inaccurate. Interesting how this suddenly boils down to an error rate of 0.00001%. Some magic is going on here.

    And how come they give a range (6-32%) for the accuracy? Did they split their cases based on some magic mystery factor to find that magic group 1 had a 32% accurate diagnosis while magic group 3217 had only a 6% accurate diagnosis?

    I am well aware that 70% of all statistics are made up on the spot, but the numbers should still make sense!

    1. Sven Coenye

      Re: Statistically challenged

      "I am well aware that 70% of all statistics are made up on the spot, but the numbers should still make sense!"

      They're still using Excel 2007 and something evaluated to 65535?

    2. Dig

      Re: Statistically challenged

      Normally when analysing data like this you would split the dates into a series of sets si they may be referring to each set. Alternatively they may be using multiple algorithms. The accuracy refers to the false positive rate. So based on search results that aren't for the cancer they can give between 6 and 32% of people a go see your doctor now warning with only a false rate of 1 in 100000.

  5. Sandtitz Silver badge


    They should come up with a big honkin' "YOU HAVE CANCER!!!" (with marquee and blink tags) message when the user is suspected (with a higher than 6% probability) of having cancer.

  6. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    shoulder pain, agony cancer death?

    You think that they've been visiting the Google Doctor in Burnistoun?

    1. John Styles

      Re: shoulder pain, agony cancer death?

      Yes, lung cancer is one of the things that a shoulder pain can be a symptom of. Deep joy. As a fully paid up hypochondriac I went to see the doctor to check it wasn't that. My null hypothesis (and the physio's when I went to see one) was that it was caused by the dog (large, strong, stupid) straining after hedgehogs.

  7. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


    And to think everyone* was once concerned that all this data collection would end up tracking your medical status and sold off to interested third parties.

    *with a working brain

  8. Just Enough

    No. Just No.

    "when people binged"

    Stop trying to make this is a verb, or even a word.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: No. Just No.

      Ok, how about bingled?

    2. Named coward

      Re: No. Just No.

      but binged is already a word (to binge)

  9. strum

    Big data

    It's worth noting that this is the same sort of bushwa that NSA & GCHQ are involved in - hoovering up gazillions of data points and pretending they can derive useful information from it.

    Difference is, with this piece of nonsense, we can see the figures and draw our own conclusions.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think the data shows conclusively that Windows causes cancer.

    I believe it, and I am on the Internet, so you should believe me too.

    I understand there is a connection between correlation and causation, but I am too lazy to google the details.

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