In the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings, Google has deployed its Person Finder tool which combs available records to track down friends or family in the wake of disaster.
Person Finder was first deployed in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and then again for Japan’s 2011 tsunami and the Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake.
All collated information is publicly available. Google says it can not and does not verify the accuracy of the information, but it provides room for status updates that say whether someone has been confirmed alive and well and a space for notes on each page.
It’s possible to search for a person’s name or parts of their name, and the tool will bring up search results including their status. For example, this search for ‘John’ would reveal a list of people with that name along with updates such as “someone has received information that this person is alive”.
Webmasters can embed the Person Finder into their sites while developers are encouraged to help improve the open source initiative.
Google promises that after a limited time the tools will not be publicly available, to assuage privacy concerns.
Person Finder is a part of Google’s Crisis Response department.