Different Interpretations of the same Law: The GDPR in Norway and The Netherlands

Two weeks before I was moving to the Netherlands to begin my bachelor studies in August 2019, my family and I were joking, with a serious undertone, that perhaps I would have to pitch a tent in the park for the first few weeks as I still had not been able to find a place to live. After browsing endlessly on Facebook and responding to rooms that were way above my budget, someone finally reached out and offered me a 10sqm room for 550 euros in an apartment with three working women and a dog. While it certainly was not an ideal solution, I accepted the offer, hoping that I would eventually be able to find a place of better value, and I was content with having found something before the start of university.

When moving out, I had several issues with one of my housemates, as she was also the main tenant, and all logistics regarding renting the room had been organized through her. Throughout the 6 months of living in the apartment I had never been in contact with the landlord who owned the house, and did not even know his name. In hindsight, I should have been aware of this sooner, but when it is the first time living on your own it is difficult to avoid such mistakes. My housemate refused to pay me my deposit and since we did not reach an agreement, I decided it would be best to speak directly to the landlord. The only problem? I did not have his contact information, and no way of finding it either.

In Norway I am used to being able to quickly look up the contact information, or address, of a friend or acquaintance if I want to get in touch with them, as everything is available through online catalogues. In these catalogues, such as gulesider.no (yellow pages), your name is connected to your phone number, address and sometimes even email address. These catalogues are the updated online versions of the older physical copies of phone catalogues, where one could look through the pages to find the number of your neighbor, or a company, sorted alphabetically by surname.

When I wanted to find the name and number of my landlord, I figured that since I knew he owned my apartment I could use that address to find his contact information. This became much more difficult when I discovered that such personal information was not as easily accessible in the Netherlands as it is in Norway. If I am called by an unknown Norwegian number, I can run it through the catalogues and check whether it is a friend or a phone seller, and from there determine if I should block the number or not.

This was the moment when I realized that personal data is handled differently in Norway as opposed to in the Netherlands, and that personal data is more concealed from public access here than what it is in Norway. While both Norway and the Netherlands have implemented the European laws for privacy, which is the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, most personal data in Norway is openly accessible, while in the Netherlands this is not the case. In Norway, the Data Protection Authority (Datatilsynet) is responsible for handling and processing personal information, and in the privacy statement of the yellow pages catalogue, they claim to follow the GDPR act as it was implemented in 2018. This means that while it seems to be in breach of the GDPR to have online catalogues where personal information is publicly accessible, it has been regulated to be in accordance with the European laws of privacy.

The situation with my deposit was resolved in the end, although my roommate withheld 15% of the total amount that she was required to pay me back, and we were never able to reconciliate afterwards. I have certainly learnt a lot from this experience and what to be aware of before signing a contract for a living space. I believe that I could have handled the situation better through having direct contact with the landlord, which is something that will be a clear priority for me when arranging housing in the future. It was also an eye-opening experience to understand how personal data is handled in different countries, even though they are committed to implementing the same GDPR. Although I believe that it is important to protect personal data, this was an instance where I would have benefitted from being able to find out who my landlord was just with the help of my apartment address. While it would have been useful for my situation, such public access to personal data could also be abused, which is why I understand that it is not available in the Netherlands.

Read more about GDPR in Norway and the Netherlands here: