World Factbook

The CIA discovers 91 million missing Chinese Internet users

April 1, 2011: 8:25 AM ET

The Agency's country-by-county Internet count plays catch-up to Wikipedia

Click to enlarge. Data: CIA World Factbook

The last time we visited the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook -- a document that is supposed to be updated every week -- its "country comparison" list of Internet users seemed woefully out of date. Specifically, its December count of Internet users in China (298 million) differed from Wikipedia's (425 million) by 127 million people.

Wikipedia's numbers struck us as more credible for several reasons, and apparently the Agency agreed.

In February it issued an update that caught up to the user-generated encyclopedia, in some cases lifting its numbers from the same sources Wikipedia used. The most striking example is Nigeria, where the CIA counted 11 million users in December and Wikipedia counted 43,985,000 -- a 300% discrepancy. In the CIA's new database, Nigeria's Internet population is listed as 43,989,000.

As for China, there's a still a discrepancy of more than 60 million. But the CIA's new count (389 million) has come more than half way to meet Wikipedia's, thanks to the Agency's discovery of 91 million Chinese Internet users it missed the last time.

All this matters because many companies -- whether they know it or not -- rely on the U.S. government to stay on top of these things. Apple (AAPL), for example, likes to cite NetApplications to show how rapidly its Internet share is growing. NetApplications, in turns, weighs the county-by-county data it collects from client websites using -- you guessed it -- the CIA Factbook.

Below: The CIA's current list of the top 50 Internet countries (and the increase from December).


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