Measuring internet economy on the international agenda

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
© Hollandse Hoogte / Dolph Cantrijn
At an international seminar held last November in Mexico, one of the main topics was ‘The measurement of economic activities on digital platforms’. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) was there to explain how it mapped out the Dutch internet economy by applying innovative big data research methods in a collaborative project with Google and Dataprovider. The approach and method received a lot of international recognition.


With the help of big data, CBS mapped out all Dutch companies which generate the mainstay of their revenues through the Internet. CBS Innovation manager Barteld Braaksma was closely involved in this process. ‘There are altogether some 50,000 companies that constitute the core of the internet economy. These include webshops, online services and internet-related ICT companies. The departure point for this study was a dataset compiled by Dataprovider containing all the Dutch company websites and their corresponding features. Next, we linked these websites to the CBS business register in order to obtain other information such as turnover and employment generated by these companies. The combination of big data and standard CBS statistics resulted in a first calculation of the size of the Dutch internet economy.’ Braaksma presented the CBS approach and method at the conference. The comments received from the participants indicated that the CBS study does offer many opportunities, but that certain areas still need to be addressed at this early stage.

Practical and pragmatic tools

Ricardo Rodriguez is Director for knowledge transfer activities of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) in Mexico. This organisation collects economic, social and geographical data. Rodriguez organised the conference on behalf of INEGI. He welcomed the steps already taken by CBS in the mapping of an internet economy. ‘It is a very practical and pragmatic way to start measuring the digital economy by linking Dutch websites to Dutch businesses following a big data methodology. We are interested in exploring the possibility of repeating the methodology and doing further research. This is a starting point, as many consequences and implications are still unclear. In any case, we are proposing a series of videoconference sessions in 2018 to review the 8 different steps of the Dutch study. This is done in collaboration with CBS in the role of advisor.’

The comments received from the participants indicated that the CBS study does offer many opportunities, but that certain areas still need to be addressed at this early stage

OECD taskforce

One of the many international participants at the seminar was Hamish Grant, a senior national accounts researcher at New Zealand’s official data agency, Stats NZ. In this capacity, he works closely with the OECD taskforce which is studying how activities related to the Internet and online services may be converted to a share in gross domestic product (GDP). What are the most important issues to be resolved in this context? ‘The existing sources for the national accounts have not been designed in such a way that activities related to the digital economy can easily be traced. This calls for other information sources. We also need to obtain a better understanding of the interactions between companies operating on digital platforms which run across country borders. In other words, there are still quite a few things to follow up on.’