Legislation Still Pending on the Taxation of Facebook and Google

Minister Lilja Alfreðsdóttir

Imposing a tax on ad revenue collected by foreign tech companies such as Facebook and Google is urgent, the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs told RÚV yesterday. Ad payments to foreign companies totalled approximately ISK 369 million ($2.6 million / €2.4 million) in 2009 and have gradually increased to total nearly ISK 9.5 billion ($67 million / €62 million) in 2021.

Taxation still the plan, Minister of Culture and Trade says

Efforts have long been made to impose a tax on foreign tech giants such as Facebook and Google, which collect a large share of domestic ad revenue – but pay no taxes in Iceland. This creates something of a void in the operation of Icelandic media companies, as well as the state treasury, RÚV notes.

In September 2018, then Minister of Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, called a press conference to discuss plans to strengthen the Icelandic media environment by reducing RÚV’s activities in the advertising market and by imposing taxes on foreign tech companies.

“This is precisely why we’re proposing a uniform tax on national and foreign online media because a lot of this ad revenue is leaving the country. It’s not just us who are facing this challenge but our neighbouring countries, too,” Lilja observed just over four years ago.

RÚV echoed these statements to Lilja Alfreðsdóttir – who now serves as the Minister of Culture and Business Affairs – in an interview yesterday. The minister responded thusly:

“We decided to provide operational support to private media companies in Iceland, which was an important step. We’re currently reviewing the tax environment of media companies and taking into account developments abroad. But as I stated in 2018: the time is now, and we’re still working according to that plan.”

Foreign ad revenue rapidly increasing

As noted by RÚV, Statistics Iceland has compiled an overview of the distribution of advertising funds between domestic and foreign media. In 2013, the ad revenue of foreign media increased significantly at the expense of domestic companies. That trend has continued. In 2021, for example, when profits were expected to rebound following COVID, domestic ad revenue increased by 14%, while the ad revenue of foreign companies increased by 34%.

Statistics Iceland has also monitored ad payments to foreign companies, which in 2009 were approximately ISK 369 million ($2.6 million / €2.4 million) but increased to almost ISK 9.5 billion ($67 million / €62 million) in 2021. The institution honed in on ad payments made via credit cards, usually originating from smaller companies, or smaller ad campaigns, where foreign tech giants like Facebook and Google play a significant role. Their share of ad revenues has increased from 29% in 2009 when the total revenue was ISK 153 million ($1.1 million / €991,000); to 89% in 2011, when the total revenue was ISK 371 million ($2.6 million / €2.4 million). In 2021, their share of ad revenue was 95%, when total payments amounted to ISK 4.6 billion ($32 million / €30 million). The two companies paid no taxes in Iceland.

Uncertain whether legislation will be passed this year

Given the global nature of the issue, RÚV notes, the government has collaborated with other countries within the OECD on how to tax this revenue.

“I hope that we’ll find a solution because there are many domestic companies that rely on a fair competitive position against these international giants,” Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson told RÚV in 2021.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir stated that resolving the issue was an urgent matter but was unwilling to promise that such legislation would be passed this year.

“It’s difficult to say. I hoped it would see the light of day in 2019, and then the year after. But then, of course, the attention of most governments shifted to the pandemic. But I feel like there’s a greater understanding of how urgent this is today.”

Google Forced to Remove Personal Information

Google was recently forced to de-index information about an Icelander following a ruling by the Icelandic Data Protection Authority.

See also: Police Deactivate Facebook Page over Data Safety Concerns

The decision concerned a man in a management position. When he first approached Google with his request, it was claimed that the nature of his position made information about him in the public interest.

Appealing the case to the Icelandic Data Protection Authority, the agency ruled that the so-called “right to be forgotten” was applicable to the case.

An excerpt from the decision reads as follows: “In certain cases, people may have the right to have information displayed about them in search engines, eg on Google, removed. Although the results are removed from search engines, the content will still be on the Internet, but in some cases it is also possible to get it removed. In this case, it was considered that the complainant’s privacy interests and his right to be forgotten outweighed the public’s interest in having access to the said information about him. It was therefore proposed to Google LLC to remove certain websites from the search results for the complainant’s name in the Google search engine.”

Given the private nature of the information, further information about the complainant was withheld from the report.

A redacted version of the decision can be read, in Icelandic, here.

Microsoft, Google, and Amazon Welcomed Icelandic Delegation

microsoft icelandic

A delegation of Icelanders, including President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, met with representatives of tech giants Microsoft, Google, and Amazon in the US last week to discuss the incorporation of the Icelandic language into new technologies. In a television interview, Guðni stated that the meetings went well, with the corporations willing to increase collaboration with Icelandic language technology developers to ensure Icelandic could be used widely in the digital world.

Microsoft VP reads Icelandic noir novels

The Icelandic delegation met with Scott Guthrie, Executive Vice President of the Cloud and AI group in Microsoft. They expressed their thanks for Microsoft’s inclusion of the Icelandic language in their software, including Word, which is available in Icelandic. Guthrie revealed to the delegation that he is a big fan of Icelandic Nordic noir author Arnaldur Indriðason and has read most of his books.

Speaking to devices is the future

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson stated that in the future, speaking to devices will be our main way of interacting with them: “and not just to ask our phone what time it is or what the capital of Costa Rica is, or something along those lines, rather this technology will be used in the healthcare sector, education, and so much more.”

Read More: Improving the Icelandic Language on Devices

The aim of the trip was to ensure that the technological developments that take place take the Icelandic language into account. The delegation was not on its knees, begging for that to happen, Guðni says, rather showed up armed with arguments and data about the importance of linguistic inclusion in the tech world. “We went to these technology giants with that in our suitcase and said: we’re going to work together,” Guðni stated. “We are going to invite you to cooperate and luckily we were well received everywhere.”

Read more about the newest developments in Icelandic language technology.

Westfjords Mayor Complains of Snow on Google Maps

Bolungarvík Google Maps


Jón Páll Hreinsson, mayor of Westfjords town Bolungarvík, has sent in a complaint to Google Maps because the application’s satellite image of the town is covered in snow. RÚV reported first. While Jón Páll admitted that the Westfjords are often covered in snow, he complained that its presence on the map makes it difficult to use.

“I don’t know about you, but it really gets on my nerves that part of the Westfjords (including Bolungarvík) is covered with snow in Google’s map service,” the mayor of the 950-person fishing village wrote in a Facebook post. Jón Páll stated that the snow was “annoying” when he needed to use the map to evaluate driving times between locations, but that he was also thinking of “the millions who are now looking at the Westfjords as a destination and see.. well very little due to the snow.”

“I know that there is snow in the Westfjords and this is often the reality,” Jón Páll added, “but places are just not shown like this in general and if it’s possible to show Hammerfest (in Norway) in its finest green, then it’s also possible here!”

Jón Páll included a screenshot of his letter in the Facebook post and encouraged other annoyed residents to send in complaints.