«I’m not a bean counter»

What is it like to accompany every internal big-data project with a warning finger raised? Gabriele Schmid, data protection officer at the Swiss post office, knows the answer.

Claudia Bardola

«Although our customers are understandably sensitive, from an economic viewpoint the post office must be open to the topic of big data and has been integrating it into its strategy for a while. As data protection officer for the group, I am involved in the internal big-data projects. In general, for me – as a lawyer – the algorithms that the systems are based on and their monitoring are particularly difficult to understand. Here, among other things, the question occurs to me: will the anonymised data remain anonymous tomorrow and the next day, or will linking more and more information mean that suddenly, it is possible to identify an individual after all? This is why it is our job to design technologies, procedures and processes so that they are transparent and also remain data-protection friendly in the future.


Currently, our approach tends towards small big data. We primarily drive forward multiple smaller objectives that aim to achieve the optimisation of internal processes and added value for our customers. Of course, in my role as data protector, I am not always convenient for the project managers and once in a while I struggle with the stereotype that our work delays projects or makes them more expensive. For this reason, as a data protection office, we also lobby for ourselves to a certain extent and try to get involved in projects as early as possible. Because if projects that have already been completed then need to be assessed with regard to their data protection conformity and potentially need to be adapted at this point – then it really can become expensive and difficult.


«Of course, in my role as data protector, I am not always convenient for the project managers.»

Naturally adherence to all regulatory and internal specifications is always the focus. But I don’t see myself as a bean counter and take as pragmatic an approach as possible. This also includes being willing to engage in discussions and find a consensus with those responsible – because, particularly in a group like the post office, everybody has to make a contribution to data protection.


I would also categorise the way I handle my personal data as aware but certainly liberal. I make intensive use of electronic media, just like every other consumer. If passing on data provides me with a certain amount of added value and is also transparent, I consciously accept the related risks. An example is customer loyalty cards: if Coop or Migros evaluate my personal shopping basket and then offer me a suitable discount voucher based on my purchasing behaviour – why not?


Despite work days that are often hectic, I try to create short breathers during my day-to-day work. Then I like to grab a hot cup of coffee and clear my head on our roof terrace with an amazing view of the Bernese old town. Privately, I recharge my batteries through shared experiences with my family.»

Gabriele Schmid

Gabriele Schmid has been employed in the data protection field at the Swiss post office for twelve years. For around six years, she has been the official data protection officer of the group. The lawyer lives with her husband and two sons of primary school age in the Bernese Seeland region.

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