Google measures inflation by looking at web data

Once again drawing upon its access to  information, Google suggests it developing an alternative measure of inflation:

Google is using its vast database of web shopping data to construct the ‘Google Price Index’ – a daily measure of inflation that could one day provide an alternative to official statistics.

The work by Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian, highlights how economic data can be gathered far more rapidly using online sources. The official Consumer Price Index data are collected by hand from shops, and only published monthly with a time lag of several weeks…

The GPI shows a “pretty good correlation” with the CPI for goods such as cameras and watches that are often sold on the web, but less so for others, such as car parts, that are infrequently traded online.

This bears watching as Google can access data and then analyze/summarize it at a much quicker speed than the government. But it will be interesting to see how Google gets around the issue of what is being sold online – the story also notes that Google’s index downplays the role of housing.

This could play out in a number of ways. Could this online index be improved so that markets were responding to Google’s data rather than the government’s data? Let’s say the government decides it likes Google’s approach. Does it develop the same or a similar algorithm within the government? Does it contract the task to Google?