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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Privacy Problem Puzzles Swedish Authorities

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Want to know how much your boss earns? Or whether your daughter's fiance is in debt? For Swedes, it takes just a few clicks on the Internet to find out.

But many feel the web has taken things too far, and proud though they are of Sweden's unusual history of openness, they have pressured providers to put some limits on a service that allowed Swedes to snoop through each other's finances anonymously and free of charge.

"Your neighbor knows what you're making, your brother-in law knows what you're making, and people around you can know whether you're on any records for outstanding payments," said Hans Karnlof, a lawyer at the Swedish Data Inspection Board.

Things came to a head in November when a Swedish web site, Ratsit.se, started publishing financial details, free of charge, from the national tax authority. The site has some 610,000 registered users, in a country of 9 million, and handled an average of 50,000 online credit checks a day.

"This type of access to financial information is in no way available in other countries like it is here," said Karnlof, the data board's lawyer. "Visitors we've had from Ireland and Germany, for example -- their jaws just drop when they hear about it."

The Data Inspection Board was inundated with complaints, "like an avalanche," said Karnlof.

While the law obliges the board to give out tax information, it doesn't say in what form. So tax authorities simply threatened to supply the information on paper, instead of electronically, which would have forced credit checkers to scan millions of records.

To avoid the hassle, the companies agreed to the new restrictions on how the material is accessed.

Before the new rules kicked in a week ago, Ratsit's traffic nearly tripled to over 140,000 hits a day, company officials said.