Today the European Commission and the International Organization for Migration launch the Big Data for Migration Alliance (BD4M), a global initiative to unlock the potential of big data sources and provide valuable insights related to migration.
One of the main challenges to effective migration policies is working with traditional statistics, including census data that can often be outdated.
Social media platforms and other new, innovative sources can provide up to date, dynamic information on migration and mobility trends and statistics. Scientists call these insights mobility 'nowcasts', and they can help policymakers keep a grip on the issues as they develop.
BD4M is the first dedicated network of stakeholders seeking to tap into this potential. The alliance aims to address challenges ranging from access and analytical difficulties to privacy and security risks.
Big data 'nowcasts': an emerging science
The JRC and IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) present research at today's launch event exploring how data from the Facebook advertising platform can be interpreted to gain an accurate picture of migration trends.
Scientists used data that describe the number of Facebook users who live in an EU country and are classified as 'expats' from another country. They developed a methodology to correct the over- or under-representation of these data compared to the real population, based on the probability of expats using Facebook - affected by factors like age, gender, country of origin and the country of the destination of an expat.
The results were compared to national statistics, as well as those from Eurostat and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. While interpreting data in this kind of way is in its infancy, the study shows that initial estimates from Facebook data are broadly aligned to official statistics, confirming the potential of big data to 'nowcast'. These nowcasts can be used to detect trends of fluid and rapidly changing patterns of mobility, where current methods often lag several months behind.
In addition, the methodology could be used as a basis to give figures in those countries where no official statistics exist about migrants.
Responsible use of data
BD4M takes confidentiality, security and the ethical use of data seriously. The alliance recognises the concerns over the privacy and security risks that could arise if this information is not handled appropriately.
The project will work with anonymised data, assessing numbers and trends similarly to how regular statistics are used. A network of 'data stewards' will be integral to the alliance, set up across private and public institutions to foster the efficient and responsible use of data.
Workshops held in the run-up to today's launch highlighted the need for a regulatory and legislative framework to instruct the collection, analysis, and sharing of big data. BD4M aims to help provide a starting point to build this framework, through international dialogue between regulators, big data users and providers.
The alliance is jointly convened by the European Commission's Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography and the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) of the United Nations' International Organization for Migration. Relevant partners from the scientific, policy and business communities will be identified for specific activities as the work progresses.