Cabinet to tap ‘big data’ from Internet to assess economy

Kyodo

The government is adding a new element to its monthly economic assessments: “big data” culled from the Internet.

The data will include such phenomena as online searches for products and services and private consumption. By analyzing it, the Cabinet Office hopes to raise the accuracy of its monthly economic reports, which the government uses to draft its policies, government sources said Saturday.

Although hacking, theft, and corporate and governmental abuse of personal data has recently given big data a bad name, as evidenced by scandals involving Hitachi, East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), Omron and Benesse Holdings, the government is already promoting its use in the economic growth strategy. Now the Cabinet Office is thinking of requesting tens of millions of yen for its fiscal 2015 budget to fund the development of a big data indicator, the sources said.

To prepare its monthly assessments, the office analyzes such indicators as household spending, commerce surveys and industrial output indexes. But these statistics don’t necessarily reflect the latest conditions, as some are based on data from the prior month.

Consumption, on the other hand, can fluctuate widely in a short time, as the period ahead of the April 1 tax hike showed, and can be followed by a sudden drop in demand.

The Cabinet Office gathers data on weekly retail sales from supermarkets and polls various firms , but it says it must also grasp economic trends more accurately and swiftly by using a broader range of data.

The big data it plans to monitor includes Twitter messages and Google searches related to purchases of durable goods, like cars and appliances, as well as services, such as travel.