BSP to tap into phone tracking data to study PH economic activity
MANILA, Philippines—The country’s monetary regulator has added location tracking data recorded by Filipinos’ mobile phones to its information arsenal aimed at helping it get a firmer handle on near-realtime economic activity amid the coronavirus crisis.
At an online press briefing, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno said that the information — scrubbed clean of individual users’ identifying information — will enhance the agency’s surveillance toolkit by giving more accurate insight on the pace of the country’s return to pre-pandemic activity amid the gradual opening of the economy.
“Ensuring access to relevant and timely data to assess economic activity is crucial amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited people’s mobility and altered the functioning of the economy,” he said. “Mobility data offer much potential in providing inputs for policymaking under the new economy.”
The central bank chief pointed to location data provided by international technology giants such as Apple and Google, which show whether people are starting to go out again, and thus creating more economic activity, or still staying at home.
With other domestic demand indicators, the BSP monitors high-frequency mobility indicators — such as the number of visitors in select categories of location as well as volume of requests for directions — to identify changes in the population’s behavior as public health measures are calibrated according to the guidelines of the Inter-Agency Task Force.
Mobility tracker reports from smartphone apps are studied to understand patterns across economic sectors as a supplement to traditional data sources. Integrating these indicators into economic surveillance allows a comparative study of economic activities before and during the pandemic and enables multilevel analysis across major cities in the country.
“In recent months, there has been a gradual pickup in mobility as quarantine restrictions eased in most parts of the country,” Diokno said.
In December 2020, the mobility index for groceries and pharmacies peaked at 40 percent on Christmas Eve which is above pre-quarantine baseline levels, although this could also be partly linked to holiday spending.
As of Jan. 17, 2021, mobility in workplaces remains below pre-pandemic levels at negative 16 percent compared to baseline as work-from-home arrangements continue in offices. Low transit mobility at negative 49 percent compared to baseline partly reflects these arrangements, as well as the limited public transportation options during the quarantine.
The future of mobility would largely depend on the restoration of safe and easy access to transportation and public confidence once vaccines become available to the general population.
“The BSP remains open to opportunities to use reliable high-frequency data sources to track economic signals at near-real time,” Diokno said.
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