Why is my personal data online in Sweden?

Photo: Taylor Deas-Melesh

Privacy – possibly a culture shock in Sweden

You might already found out that in Sweden your personal data is available online for everyone to see. This country developed a different culture when it comes to transparency and this affects your privacy. By default a lot of our personal data is online. Tax authorities in Sweden and Norway even publish their resident’s income. Newspaper rank the richest people in the country and in small towns. Being one of the most transparent countries in the world, even everyone’s salary in Sweden is public.

Source: Transparency.org

Nordic countries have discovered long ago that transparency is a public good. In Sweden the public transparency dates back to the 18th(!) century. Transparency is indeed a powerful tool that prevents corruption.

To understand why your personal data is online, it is worth to pay attention to the Jantes law . While Jantes Law was as criticism of society in general, it established rules that characterize as unworthy and inappropriate behaviors that are not conforming, do things out of the ordinary and what is personally ambitious. Jantes Law depicted life typical of all small towns and communities, where nobody sticks out, nobody is anonymous. No-one is better than anyone else. No one should have a valid reason to hide anything in this world.

Consequently in the egalitarian nature of Nordic countries, personal data protection is just not that relevant.

In practical terms

Once you register at Skatteverket as a resident in Sweden, you get your individual Personennummer. And just like that, you are part of the system. Your data is open. Multiple companies start share your personal details (Date of birth, address, who you live with etc) through an array of APIs and web hooks that display your personal details to any corner of the internet.

Businesses in Sweden may apply for a publisher’s license in Sweden. After being approved the applicant are granted the “Yttrandefrihetsgrundlagen (YGL)” by the authority (Myndigheten för press, radio och tv.). YGL (Publisher’s licence) grants them a right to display your personal details in a public database. The lack of your privacy hides under the umbrella of “press freedom”. Those companies use your data to create products. They will structure the data snippets of your date of birth, address etc so that your personal details are aggregated on the search result page already. Here is an example:

Source: Duckduckgo.com screenshot (Search results page)

Benefits of the transparency

It is important to state that different cultures have different ideas about privacy. What might feel very wrong to citizens from other EU countries, it might be utterly irrelevant to many others. In Sweden it seems to symbolize the best of Nordic openness. Common way to look at it is to find success of the policy and look away from any failures. There is anecdotal evidence that the Swedish gender pay gap has become smaller. It stands today at 6 per cent which in the EU is around 25 per cent..

How about you? Are you happy to see the your personal data published like this? Do you see risks with this approach?

Please comment if you want to add to the debate or have an experience to share below. We hope for a lively discussion and comments that add nuances to the debate. Your comment might be moderated, edited and/or deleted.


One Response

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