Big Data, Big Promises: Revisiting Migration Statistics in Context of the Datafication of Everything

Stephan Scheel, Funda Ustek-Spilda

Border Criminologies Blog, June 2018


The authors argue that we are witnessing the “datafication” of mobility and migration management across the world, driven by the digitization of data that can be searched, exchanged, linked, and analyzed with unprecedented scope and efficiency. Big Data is promoted as promising alternative sources for producing more reliable statistics on international migration. The authors discuss three reasons why it is unlikely that Big Data will solve the most important known limitations of migration statistics, specifically:

  • Politics of numbers: Migration policy actors may count migrants in particular ways to produce numbers that provide evidence in support of certain policy objectives or institutional agendas.
  • Politics of method: Use of alternative data sources like mobile phone or Twitter data raise several methodological issues, such as selection bias. Big Data-based methods are unlikely to replace established methodologies, rather they might complement them, adding to the existing methodological heterogeneity.
  • Politics of (national) distinction: Migration concerns a core issue of national sovereignty—the claimed authority of nation-states to decide on the terms and conditions of entry to and stay within their respective jurisdiction.


Big Data | Technology