Data is transforming the way we interact with the world. Every second more than 54,000 Google searches are conducted, 7,000 some tweets are shared and more than 2 million emails are sent. A surge in search data hit the headlines this week when millions of users started asking Google, “What is the EU?” and “Why did we vote to leave it?”

On 20 June 2016, Readie hosted a global webinar with Google’s Chief Economist, Hal Varian. Hal is an Emeritus Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and co-author of bestselling book ‘Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy’. Since 2002, Hal has been working with Google on auction design, econometric analysis, finance, corporate strategy and public policy. Hal Varian commented, “We’ve all been surprised at just how big an impact the internet has made.”

APIs (application programming interface) have been driving technology innovation and the platform economy especially, for years. Yet, once upon a time the domain of R&D teams or coders, API data is now being used to provide unique insights into societal and economic developments.

So what does this mean for policymakers? The European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy reported that big data actually creates jobs and that need for specialists will see an increase to approximately 69,000 big data staff in the next five years. Google Trends data can now also forecast everything from how wealthy people are feeling by their holiday planning through to unemployment rates in Europe. It can also provide insights into healthcare. Researchers just published a study mapping chickenpox outbreaks based on people’s search terms in Google.

Hal Varian had some more practical advice for those working on the digital economy. “It is a very rapidly moving system, things that seem to have a huge impact for the moment, will turn out a year from now not to be so important, and then the things that do not seem so important now will be headline information. You want to be careful about making decisions that lock you into certain policies too early.”

Want to work with Google Trends data? Click here for Hal Varian’s ‘A Hands-on Guide to Google Data’ published by Berkeley University.

Readie runs regular webinars for researchers working on the digital economy. To find out about joining the next one, sign up to our newsletter or email: