Guest Post–Assessing Corruption with Big Data

Today’s guest post is from Enestor Dos Santos, principal economist at BBVA Research.

Ascertaining the actual level of corruption is not easy, given that it is usually a clandestine activity, and much of the available data is not comparable across countries or across time. Survey data on corruption experience can be helpful, but it is often limited to very specific kinds of corruption (such as petty bribery). Researchers and analysts have therefore, quite reasonably, tended to rely on subjective corruption perception data, such as Transparency International’s well-known Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). (The CPI aggregates corruption perception data from a variety of other sources, mostly expert assessments.) But conventional corruption perception measures (including those use to construct the CPI) have well-known problems, including limited coverage (with respect to both years and countries) and relatively low frequency (usually annual). And they rely on the perceptions of a handful of experts, which may not necessarily be representative. These limitations mean that while traditional perception measures like the CPI may be useful for some purposes, they are not as helpful for others, such as measuring the impact of individual events or news reports on corruption perceptions, or how changes in corruption perceptions affect government approval ratings.

To address these concerns, a recent study by BBVA Research, entitled Assessing Corruption with Big Data, offered an alternative, complementary type of corruption perceptions measure, based on Google web searches about corruption. To construct this index, we examined all web searches classified by Google Trends in the “Law and Government” category for individual countries, and calculated the proportion of those searches that contain the word “corruption” (in any language and including its misspellings and synonyms). Our index, which begins in 2004, covers more than 190 countries and, unlike traditional corruption indicators, is available in real-time and with high-frequency (monthly). Moreover, it can be reproduced very easily and at very low cost.

Here are some of our main findings: Continue reading

Crowdsourced Anticorruption Reporting, 2.0

Crowd-based reporting tools have garnered tremendous attention for their role in anticorruption efforts all around the world. Deservedly so: these platforms harness rapidly increasing internet and mobile access in the developed world to tackle the age-old problem of corruption. Perhaps the best known of this new wave of crowdsourced reporting tools, iPaidABribe (which started in India and has been successfully recreated in other parts of the world), allows any citizen with a smartphone or other access to the internet to report bribery incidents nearly-instantaneously. Citizens can report the amount of a bribe, the recipient of the bribe, the institution that took or demanded the bribe, and so on — all anonymously. Visitors can read the reports as well as view a sort of “heat map” that aggregates the reports to demonstrate where bribery is most prevalent. The very act of broadcasting one’s own experiences with corrupt officials, and the commensurate naming-and-shaming effect this has when many such reports are aggregated, is proving to be extremely powerful.

To be sure, not all attempts to use modern internet and mobile technology to crowdsource anticorruption reporting have been as successful. Some (perhaps most) platforms never really get off the ground. Observers on this blog and elsewhere have pointed out that this may be due to a mismatch between local social conditions and the platform itself. These challenges are real, but I want to focus for now on platforms that have managed to gather and report significant data on corruption. Even in these cases, some commentators have pointed out, the full potential of crowd-based corruption reporting platforms has yet to be realized. The data they are gathering is still relatively “raw” and unprocessed by entities that could really use it — such as government anticorruption agencies. Thus it is important to highlight how these platforms can improve, and how they can avoid having their efforts thwarted by unwanted side-effects. As platform developers move past their early obstacles and start achieving real success in their primary goal — getting people to use their reporting system — the need now is to direct the platforms and their potential partners in such a way as to enhance their effectiveness and to avoid the possibility that their data will be misused. Continue reading

Do Anticorruption Blogs Matter? Alexei Navalny’s Example

Some blogs, including this one, are devoted to analysis and discussion of anticorruption policy issues.  But a number of anticorruption bloggers are more like investigative journalists—finding and exposing instances of (alleged or apparent) corruption. Do these blogs make a difference?

This question is related to the more general question of whether the modern communications revolution—particularly the spread of internet access—will be helpful in fighting corruption. There’s reason for optimism: there’s already lots of evidence that the spread of traditional media (newspaper and radio) were crucial in the fight against corruption in the 20th century, and the internet (along with other communications technologies, like mobile phones) lowers the cost of both disseminating and accessing information about corrupt activities. In addition to individual anticorruption bloggers and websites, platforms like I Paid a Bribe and Bribespot are emerging that may enable much larger numbers of people to disseminate information. These new technologies have gotten a lot of press, but do they make a big difference?

There’s surprisingly little systematic evidence on the impact of internet on corruption, but a recent paper on the Russian anticorruption blogger (and opposition figure) Alexei Nevalny, co-authored by Ruben Enikolopov, Maria Petrova, and Konstantin Sonin, suggests that this sort of anticorruption blogging may have a real impact. Nevalny is a well-known (and controversial) figure in Russia, and he got a lot of international press last month for his exposé on corruption in the Sochi Winter Olympics. But he got his start blogging about corruption in Russian state-owned companies. And, according to Enikolopov, Petrova, and Sonin, Navalny’s posts made a difference: when he posted about a company on his anticorruption blog, that company’s value took a significant hit. What can we learn from this? Continue reading