Norway to Track All Supermarket Purchases

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Statistics Norway wants to receive several million daily receipts from food stores, signalling a new era in state data collection. Privacy advocates and the supermarkets themselves are unhappy.

People living in Norway are used to big government. But the latest news coming out of Oslo is a surprising new step down the road of data collection that not everyone is happy with.

Personal data tracking in Norway.

Statistics Norway (SSB) is the state-owned entity responsible for collecting, producing and communicating statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels.

Because everything about an individual living in Norway is linked to their fødselnummer (birth number), SSB already knows where you live, what you earn and what's on your criminal record.

However, according to a report by NRK, they now want to know where you shop, and what you buy.

Data collection from supermarket transactions

SSB has ordered Norway's major supermarket chains NorgesGruppen, Coop, Bunnpris and Rema 1000 to share all their receipt data with the agency. Nets, the payment processor that is responsible for 80% of transactions, will also need to provide data.

Kiwi supermarket in Norway

“A link between a payment transaction made with a debit card and a grocery receipt enables SSB to link a payment transaction and receipt for more than 70% of grocery purchases,” SSB said in an assessment.

Such a collection will signal a new era for SSB, as the agency now seeks to collect data from private companies and not just public registers. Given the rise in identity theft in Norway, it's no surprise that some people have concerns with the move for increased data collection.

Why is SSB doing this?

SSB claims they want a less time-consuming way of collecting and analysing household consumption statistics in order to inform tax policy, social assistance and child allowance.

In 2012, thousands of Norwegian households wrote down what they bought in a paper booklet. SSB says the survey was time-consuming and error-prone. So back in 2013, discussions began on whether they could take advantage of digital tracks already left by customers.

rema 1000 store front

SSB is adamant that they are only concerned with statistics at a group level: “When the purchases are linked to a household, it will be possible in the consumption statistics to analyze socio-economic and regional differences in consumption, and link it to variables such as income, education and place of residence.”

More data collection than ever before

NTNU researcher Lisa Reutter is among those concerned with the trend of increased state data collection. She researches how the public sector is being digitised and is using more and more data.

“When we increase the public administration's ability to classify, predict and control citizens' behaviour using large amounts of digital data, the balance of power between citizen and state is shifted,” she said.

NorgesGruppen to appeal

Both privacy advocates and the retail industry themselves are unhappy with the proposal.

Pålegg refrigerated section in a Norwegian supermarket

The biggest player in Norwegian grocery retail, NorgesGruppen operates the brands Many, Kiwi, Joker, Deli de Luca, Spar, Mix and others. They will appeal the decision and ask the Norwegian Data Protection Authority for guidance, according to NRK.

Coop spokesperson Harald Kristiansen said that while Coop is positive that SSB has a basis for making good statistics, the company will nevertheless consider appealing the order.

Payment processor Nets said they share concern “about the collection and compilation of data that may be problematic and intrusive for the individual citizen.”

Data collection in supermarkets is nothing new

Of course, it's only fair to point out that many of us already hand over all our purchase data to the supermarkets themselves in the form of loyalty programs.

While we get a discount, the supermarkets get access to valuable information about individual purchasing habits and group-level purchasing patterns.

However, the big difference between these loyalty programs and the SSB proposal is that supermarket loyalty programs are optional.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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10 thoughts on “Norway to Track All Supermarket Purchases”

    • no it doesn’t. they track your phone, and your debit card and use face recognition in walmart. i left my phone and debit at home, and paid cash they still sent me an email asking about my trip …

  1. Absolute insanity. First the supermarkets want your data to target you with ads, so you will buy stuff that you don’t need just to feel good. And now the state wants to know everything, of course just to guide taxes, because they want only your best. Except that for taxing purposes, they could simply track everything that is sold at a general level. No need to sign up the individuals. So I call bullsh*t on their reasoning. They just want to control you 100%.

  2. There’s a big difference between a store loyalty program in which they use the information to send me coupons and deals on things they know I would puchase, and the government using personal information to determine what benefits one is eligible for, or deciding that someone eats too much sugar or meat and therefore won’t get certain medical help.

  3. Time to do the same to your politicians. They must be tracked everywhere they go, all phone calls recorded at work, their complete finances are to be opened to the public, etc.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    • It is called a moderation queue and sometimes it takes several days to approve comments, especially when I am travelling. So maybe next time you could consider that there may be another reason why your comment hasn’t shown up yet and not everything is a fucking conspiracy?


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