Inaccuracies in Google’s Health-Based Knowledge Panels Perpetuate Widespread Misconceptions Involving Infectious Disease Transmission

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  • 1 Virology Division, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Frederick, Maryland;
  • 2 Darnall Medical Library, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland

Google health-based Knowledge Panels were designed to provide users with high-quality basic medical information on a specific condition. However, any errors contained within Knowledge Panels could result in the widespread distribution of inaccurate health information. We explored the potential for inaccuracies to exist within Google’s health-based Knowledge Panels by focusing on a single well-studied pathogen, Ebola virus (EBOV). We then evaluated the accuracy of those transmission modes listed within the Google Ebola Knowledge Panel and investigated the pervasiveness of any misconceptions associated with inaccurate transmission modes among persons living in Africa. We found that the Google Ebola Knowledge Panel inaccurately listed insect bites or stings as modes of EBOV transmission. Our scoping review found 27 articles and reports that revealed that 9 of 11 countries where misconceptions regarding insect transmission of EBOV have been reported are locations of current (i.e., Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea) or previous EBOV outbreaks. We found reports that up to 26.6% (155/582) of study respondents in Democratic Republic of Congo believed mosquito bite avoidance would prevent EBOV; in other locations of previous large-scale EBOV outbreaks (e.g., Guinea), up to 61.0% (304/498) of respondents believed insects were involved in EBOV transmission. Our findings highlight the potential for errors to exist within the health information contained in Google’s health-based Knowledge Panels. Such errors could perpetuate misconceptions or misinformation, leading to mistrust of health workers and aid agencies and in turn undermining public health education or outbreak response efforts.

Author Notes

Address correspondence to Andrew D. Haddow, Virology Division, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, 1425 Porter Street, Frederick, MD 21702, E-mail: andrew.d.haddow.ctr@mail.mil or Sarah C. Clarke, Darnall Medical Library, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, 8901 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, MD 20889, E-mail: sarah.c.clarke.civ@mail.mil.

Disclaimer: The opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.

Authors’ addresses: Andrew D. Haddow, Virology Division, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Frederick, MD, E-mail: andrew.d.haddow.ctr@mail.mil. Sarah C. Clarke, Darnall Medical Library, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, MD, E-mail: sarah.c.clarke.civ@mail.mil.

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