Data collecting obsession: Norway wants to know what citizens buy from the supermarket

Norwegians have to prepare for a deep invasion of their privacy: The Norwegian Central Statistical Office (SSB) wants to collect detailed data on large-scale supermarket purchases in the future. It is said that major food retailers in Norway send several million receipts to the authorities every day without obtaining customer approval. Both data protection advocates and supermarket chains are critical of the decision.

As reported by the Norwegian news portal NRK, the SSB has asked several supermarket chains to submit data on receipts to the authority. The financial service provider Nets, which handles about 80% of all Norwegian transactions in stores, is also said to provide data on purchases in supermarkets.

Officially, according to the authority, they have no interest in the personal data of individuals. Instead, it’s about using supermarket data to identify congregations. If the purchases are allocated to the family, then socio-economic and regional differences in consumer behavior can be determined statistically and conclusions can be drawn about income, level of education and place of residence. In the past, similar data and statistics, collected in the same way, were incorporated into tax and social legislation, among other things.

The Sharia Supervisory Board is a governmental institution that collects official statistics on economic, population and society issues. The SSB may collect data without citizens’ consent and regardless of a duty of confidentiality. “The SSB can impose such a demand on both private and public bodies,” Susanne Lee, legal advisor to the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, explains to netzpolitik.org.

All this is supposed to be a pseudonym. However, the same SSB notes that associating receipts with payment transactions makes more than 70% of all purchases traceable at the individual level.

Data protection advocates are concerned

Meanwhile, the Norwegian data protection authority Datatilsynet has also called for the plan. Their boss, Janne Stang Dahl, now wants to examine the matter and ask the SSB for a more detailed explanation of the purpose of the data collection. However, it can already be said that the statistical office can combine payment data with data from the tax administration and from the population registry, a press release from data protection officials explains.

In addition, the data protection authority states that the SSB plan envisages disclosure of data to all people who pay for purchases with a bank card. This also applies to persons under the age of 18 with their own bank card. According to the Data Protection Authority, this constitutes unreasonable interference with the personal data of large parts of the Norwegian population. The question is how much the state needs to know about the daily life and habits of individual citizens, says Dahl.

Lisa Reuter of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology is researching how the public sector is going digital and using more and more data. “If we expand public administration’s ability to categorize, predict and control citizen behavior using large amounts of digital data, the balance between citizen and state will change,” she told NRK.

Retailers react to rejection

The retail industry is also critical to SSB plans. According to NRK, NorgesGruppen will appeal the matter and seek advice from the data protection authority. According to the report, Coop is still considering resistance. Financial services company Nets, in turn, said it shared concerns that “the collection and evaluation of data for citizens is both problematic and a violation.”

As early as 2012, the SSB asked 3,000 Norwegian families to list what they were consuming in a brochure. Since evaluating the information was time-consuming and error-prone, it was immediately considered whether this data could not be read from the electronic tracks consumers left behind anyway.

In-store data collection isn’t a new problem in itself when it comes to redemption cards or loyalty campaigns. In these systems, personal data about individual purchasing behavior and behavior patterns of certain groups are exchanged for discounts. However, the main difference with Project SSB is that clients know what they are getting into and must explicitly consent to the collection of their data.

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