The BVD commercial database Orbis is widely used in the analysis of inter-corporate networks due to its extensive scale and international scope. Aggregating data of 60 million corporations from 156 countries it is an appealing database for those interested in analysing structures of corporate power within and between nations. Most prominently it has underpinned the claim that 147 corporations rule the world (Vitali et al, 2011).
This paper considers a variety of problems in the use of Orbis for the identification of intercorporate networks, a specific example of general problems in the use of Big Corporate Data identified by Heemskerk et al (2016). These include limitations in data quality; limitations in data source; variations in update frequency; Inconsistencies in timestamping; Biases in datasets; and Identity ambiguity, including entry duplication, identity matching and the impact of corporate hierarchies.
Using the case of UK corporate data, examples are provided of effects on network structure arising from differences in network boundaries, data source, identity matching technique and corporate hierarchy assumptions. The findings from the case support the argument of Heemskerk et al (2016) that the assumptions and methods used in inter-corporate network research need much greater specification and robustness checking.
Heemskerk, E. M., Young, K., Takes, F. W., Cronin, B., Garcia-Bernardo, J., Vladimir Popov, V., W. Kindred Winecoff, V. K., Henriksen, L. F. and Laurin-Lamothe, A. (2016) Big corporate network data: problems, diagnostics, and fixes. Social Science Research Network http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2846761
Vitali, S., Glattfelder, J. B. and Battiston, S. (2011).The Network of global corporate control. PLoS One, 6(10): e25995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202517/