Why is measuring the digital economy so difficult when everything is stored as data?

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Why is measuring the digital economy so difficult when everything is stored as data?

Research Seminar

Tuesday 14 January 2020, 16:30 — 17:30

Research Seminar

Presented by: David Nguyen (NIESR and ESCoE)

Venue: Office for National Statistics, 1 Drummond Gate, London, SW1V 2QQ

Google Maps has more than 1 billion monthly active users – an eighth of the global population. It is safe to assume that Google/Alphabet (or other businesses collecting location data) know exactly where we live, work, eat, hang out, and travel to – and most importantly with whom. However, apart from being a tool for our leisure time, it is also widely used by businesses, from retail to architectural businesses. They use it to organise supply chains or screen areas for business opportunities using information on density of amenities, competitors, real time travel times, or Street View – which covers 3,000+ cities globally. Yet, nobody is paying in monetary terms for accessing these services via their smartphone or computer. At the same time building and maintaining these services requires vast amounts of resources (computing, energy, algorithms, satellites, etc), as well as deep pockets over many years.

This talk will be framed around a number of key questions, including: What is the value of the digital economy (and what is the role of ‘data’ in it)? How well (or not) do we measure ‘digital’ at the moment? What are some of the challenges in capturing ‘digital’ in official statistics? Why does this matter for policymakers? While we will consider examples from a range of digital platforms often providing free services, we will also look at how digitalisation is permeating virtually every sector in modern economies.

David Nguyen is a Senior Economist at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and a Researcher at the Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE). He obtained his PhD from the London School of Economics (LSE). Together with Diane Coyle he co-leads two projects that are concerned with the future of economic statistics and measurement of AI, data, cloud computing and the reorganisation of production chains. David specialises in the digital economy and the impact that new technologies have on modern economies. He is also interested in how digitalisation impacts spatial inequality. David has led and completed research projects for several funders, including the ONS, OECD, BEIS, Nuffield Foundation and European Commission.