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The ABCDE of Big Data: Assessing Biases in Call-Detail Records for Development Estimates

CDRs (Call Detail Records) represent an important and largely untapped source of data for the developing world. However, they are not representative of the underlying population. We combine CDRs and census data for Senegal in 2013 to evaluate biases related to estimates of population density. We show that: (i) there are systematic relationships between cell-phone use and socio-economic and geographic characteristics that can be leveraged to improve estimates of population density; (ii) when no ‘ground truth’ data is available, a difference-in-difference approach can be used to reduce bias and infer relative changes over time in population size; (iii) indicators of development can be monitored by integrating census data and CDRs.

The ABCDE of Big Data: Assessing Biases in Call-Detail Records for Development Estimates

Authors:
Gabriel Pestre, Emmanuel Letouzé, Emilio Zagheni

December 2019

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