The Week: Best of the blogs - Privacy as a web currency

Traffic fines in Finland are calculated as a percentage of your annual salary. It is rather easy to calculate these fines because ... wait for it ... in Finland, your salary is a matter of public record.

In fact, it's even better than that. If you want to know a colleague's annual salary, there's no need to go along to the local post office and fill in a form. No, you just send a text to a short code containing the person's name and address and, a few minutes later, back comes their full annual salary.

What is fascinating is the extent to which an idea of privacy varies so greatly from one society to another. You can see how much this attitude to privacy matters in a super Prospect article by the wonderful Peter Bazalgette. In short, what Peter says is that much of the content on the internet is not really paid for in "attention dollars" but in "privacy dollars".

The way we pay for our YouTube clips or our Gmail or whatever is not only with our time, but in the information we (knowingly or not) allow to be collected about us.

One of the reasons the Finns are so relaxed about marketing data is that it is held by the (trusted) government, and the money generated by it benefits them in the shape of lower taxes. I have a hunch that some highly trusted brands (charities, the Post Office?) may be able to play a role here as guardians of personal data. The name for this kind of body - the infomediary - has been around for about ten years. But it is a concept strangely slow in becoming real.


Did you find this article useful? Why not subscribe to the magazine? Please call 08451 55 73 55 for more information or visit