Schibsted takes responsibility for valuable customer data

By Rolv Erik Ryssdal


Oslo, Norway


Knowledge is power — for those who share that knowledge and for those who receive it.

When we invite friends to dinner, we generally know what type of food they like and what their interests are. We know enough about their family circumstances, job, and hobbies to know the conversation will flow effortlessly.

Giving up personal data requires trust, and media companies have a responsibility to protect that trust.
Giving up personal data requires trust, and media companies have a responsibility to protect that trust.

A similar mechanism applies on a larger scale, such as when users give Aftenposten and Schibsted access to information about themselves. Based on this knowledge and on mathematical algorithms, we can personalise information to individuals’ wants and needs, and filter out everything they would perceive as noise.

One of the key strengths of local newspapers is that, by definition, they are geographically relevant to their readers. Relevance is also key for using larger media sources and is often based on subject matter and geography.

At Schibsted, we have no intention of leaving personalisation to computers alone. We believe in what we call editorially responsible algorithms to ensure that, among other things, everyone has access to the most important content.

The implementation of the European Union’s new data protection regulation (GDPR) is stimulating the debate over the pros and cons of sharing and accessing vast amounts of personal data. The EU is concerned individuals should “own” data concerning themselves and should decide what others may have access to — a principle we fully support.

What is important now is to give everyone a chance to make informed choices about what they wish to share in systems that are open, accessible, and understandable. This is an area in which Schibsted is investing considerable resources right now. We want everyone to feel reassured the information we obtain about them is treated properly and not misused.

Personal data has enormous value for actors engaged in mass communication, whether journalistic or commercial in nature, and we are only at the start of a trend in which new services will be developed and tailored to individual needs. This is also why it is important to have rules for how personal data should be processed.

Those who have grown up with the Internet seem to look differently at sharing data about themselves than do older generations. Young people probably find it natural that there is a direct connection between sharing information about themselves and benefiting from using digital services. Broadly speaking, there are generational differences about where the line is drawn for problematic sharing.

The power of the tech giants is another issue that should interest many in this respect, not least from a democracy perspective. Facebook holds a unique position when it comes to personal data. After 70 Facebook “likes,” the computers know more about you than your closest friends; after 300 “likes,” they know more about you than your spouse. This is according to a comprehensive study conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge and Stanford University.

This is knowledge that deals with far more than just preferences for goods and services; we are talking about people’s attitudes and psychological traits.

Facebook now has more than 2 billion users. What is the value of in-depth personal knowledge about so many people? What we do know is that such a vast amount of personal data can be used to determine the outcome of elections and heavily impact democratic processes in ways we have never seen before.

To ensure the EU’s new data protection regulation has the desired effect, without side effects, it is important the regulations are interpreted similarly by all actors in the market and by all countries.

In Norway, it is the Norwegian Data Protection Authority that is responsible for interpreting the regulations. At Schibsted, we are more concerned with keeping our own house in order than with criticising others. That said, it would be fair to argue global data giants and propaganda machines are a far cry from Norwegian newspapers that use personal data to give their readers the best possible offering, despite sharing a reliance on fundamentally the same technology.

About Rolv Erik Ryssdal

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