The Value of Big Data in a Pandemic

54 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2020 Last revised: 29 Jul 2021

See all articles by Kairong Xiao

Kairong Xiao

Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Date Written: May 13, 2020


Although big data technologies such as digital contact tracing and health certification apps have been widely used to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, little empirical evidence regarding their effectiveness is available. This paper studies the economic and public health effects of the ``Health Code'' app in China. By exploiting the staggered implementation of this technology across 322 Chinese cities, I find that this big data technology significantly reduced virus transmission and facilitated economic recovery during the pandemic. A macroeconomic Susceptible-Infectious-Recovered (SIR) model calibrated to the micro-level estimates shows that the technology reduced the economic loss by 0.5% of GDP and saved more than 200,000 lives by alleviating informational frictions during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Keywords: Big data, informational friction, COVID-19, lockdown

JEL Classification: H10, H12, D80, I10, E60

Suggested Citation

Xiao, Kairong, The Value of Big Data in a Pandemic (May 13, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Kairong Xiao (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

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New York, NY 10027
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