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Table 1 Overview of measurement approaches

From: Measuring migration 2.0: a review of digital data sources


Data source


Main approach to inferring migration stocks or flows

Example of applications to migration studies


Mobile phones [CDR; GPS; Android location history]

Private sector companies

Tracks location of individuals via phone signals through cell phone towers or by storing GPS location through the smartphone operating system

Displacement following disasters; internal mobility at local level


Social media [e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn]

Private sector companies

Measure changes in users' self-reported location in their profiles or posts and the location of IP addresses from where users log into their accounts

Estimating international migration stocks and flows; Estimating changes in friendship networks, monitoring migration-related communication in social media groups


Online search data [Google, Bing]

Private sector companies

Measuring popularity of migration-relevant search terms online

Forecasting potential bilateral migration flows


IP addresses [email logins]

Private sector companies

Track locations from which users access their email account

Estimating international migration flows


Bibliographic data

Companies; Academic bodies

Tracking changes in the publicly available institutional affiliation of professionals (i.e. academics)

Measuring international migration of academics


Remote sensing [satellite and drone images]

Government; private sector companies

Measuring changes in physical features (rooftops, settlements, light emission at night) in defined locations on maps recorded via satellite or drone imagery

Measuring rapid changes in sizes of settlements and refugee camps; border management; targeting humanitarian assistance


Air passenger data

Private sector companies

Measuring discrepancies in the volume between flight arrivals and returns as a proxy for immigration

Estimating international migration flows


Online news platforms

Private sector companies; research institutes

Compiling information on mentions of (past or potential) migration events in news media

Estimating internal displacement; estimating forced migration, estimating migrant fatalities