Economist Says Google Search Results Can Be Used As Crime Indicators


After declining for many years in the U.S., Google searches that seem to have come from child-abuse victims themselves rose as soon as the recession began, economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz writ in the New York Times. On weeks that unemployment claims rose, these searches rose as well. Searches that appear to have originated with people who suspect abuse provide evidence that the increase is caused by the economic downturn. States that had comparatively suffered the most had increased search rates for child abuse and neglect. Each percentage point increase in the unemployment rate was associated with a 3 percent increase in the search rate for “child abuse” or “child neglect.”

An analysis of Google requests shows that “we should be skeptical of statistics based on official reports of crime in general, not just child abuse or neglect,” Stephens-Davidowitz says. Google search data can fill holes in our understanding of crime generally. If your iPad was stolen, whom would you be more likely to tell: the police or Google? Stephens-Davidowitz asks. He contends that Google queries for “stolen iPad” and “stolen iPod” yield meaningful information about property crime rates.

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