Statistics Canada has started mailing out 12,000 survey invitations to households to ask how they are participating in the digital economy, either through their purchases or by earning money on platforms such as Uber or Airbnb.
The department is working on determining the size and nature of Canada’s digital economy, how fast it’s growing and how it’s affecting established industries, said Jim Tebrake, a senior manager responsible for the survey.
Statistics Canada already collects a lot of relevant information from businesses but “it’s all in pieces and it’s . . . a little bit disjointed” so the agency is aiming to put together a comprehensive analysis before the end of this year, Tebrake said.
“Before Uber, if we wanted to know the size of the taxi industry, we would just survey taxi companies,” Tebrake said Friday in an interview from Ottawa.
“Now, to get the true picture of the taxi industry, we can no longer just rely on business surveys. We have to ask households ‘How much taxi service did you produce? How much income did you make from that?’ ”
Similarly, he said, renting rooms through Airbnb means “traditional measures that survey the hotel industry are no longer sufficient if we want to understand the total production of accommodation services in Canada.”
Tebrake said the survey would be similar to what has already been done in the United States.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has estimated that digital goods and services were worth US$1.2 trillion in 2016, or 6.5 per cent of the overall gross domestic product.
The BEA also estimated that the digital economy had an average annual growth of 5.6 per cent from 2006 to 2016, outpacing the overall U.S. growth rate of 1.5 per cent.
The digital economy survey is also similar to a Statistics Canada study of the cannabis industry, a new economic force since the Canadian government began to relax restrictions on what has been an illegal substance for decades.
It is intended to be a one-time event, unlike the quarterly national cannabis survey and will ask 15 questions that will be done online by people who have received an invitation with log-on information.
One type of question relates to the use and purchase of various digital products, including music and video streaming services, e-books, mobile apps, and online gaming subscriptions.
Another type of question is about digital payment options such as reward points, gift cards, and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
A third area of interest is how money is earned from digital platforms and apps, not only ride sharing or accommodation services like Uber and Airbnb but also from cultural products like music or video.
“There’s quite a few people who are starting to earn some income through the development of cultural content that they put online — through subscription-type revenue or other things like that,” Tebrake said.
“We don’t have a way of collecting that type of information right now. This gives us an opportunity to get an idea of what’s going on.”
Details of how to access the survey are currently being mailed to 12,000 Canadian households. The feedback period closes July 12.
The survey is voluntary but Tebrake said historically there are responses from about half of those invited to participate.
He added that Statistics Canada must, by law, protect identities and other personal information gathered and is prohibited from sharing it with other organizations, including Canada Revenue Agency.