12 unexpected facts you probably didn’t know about Iceland

Iceland has long been known as one of the most beautiful places in the world, but over the past few years it has also come to be viewed as a rather unusual hotbed of football talent.

12 unexpected facts you probably didn't know about Iceland
Photo: duha127/Depositphotos

After making history at Euro 2016 by becoming the smallest nation to ever qualify for a major men’s tournament and then winning fans the world over in its remarkable run to the quarterfinals, Iceland’s national team went even further last fall when it clinched a berth in the FIFA World Cup. With just 330,000 inhabitants, Iceland will be the smallest nation by population to ever appear in a World Cup tournament.

Find out about opportunities to Invest in Iceland

While Iceland’s football team, and its fans’ iconic Viking war clap, have brought newfound attention to this North Atlantic island nation, prowess on the pitch is just one of the many ways Icelanders make an outsized impression on the global stage.

Here are 12 other things that you might not know about Iceland:

1. Its recovery from the financial crisis has been astounding

Iceland was in many ways the poster child for the 2008 global financial crisis. The country’s three largest banks collapsed, investors pulled out of the country, the currency and home prices plummeted and businesses nationwide went bankrupt. But Iceland didn’t simply recover from those depths, it’s now thriving like never before. The gross domestic product increased by a whopping 7.2 percent in 2016, followed by 3.6 percent growth last year and private consumption is at levels not seen since before the crisis.

2. It has the best gender equality in the world

A women's march in Iceland. Photo: Creative Commons

Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for nine years running. Far from being content to rest on its laurels however, Iceland made history earlier this year when it became the first country in the world to put laws on the books to ensure equal pay.  Under the Equal Pay Standard that took effect on January 1st, companies with at least 25 full-time employees are required to analyze their pay structures for wage gaps and report that information to the government of Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s second female prime minister.

3. It is a global green energy leader

All of the electricity on Iceland’s transmission grid is produced via renewable hydro- and geothermal energy. The nation’s energy infrastructure is recognized as one of the best in the entire world and Icelandic expertise in geothermal resources is a much sought-after commodity. The international interest in geothermal expertise is no surprise given geothermal energy heats 90 percent of all houses in Iceland and produces nearly a third of all electricity.

4. It is home to an ultra-efficient fishing industry

Iceland has a seafood model that has been dubbed “The Incredible Fish Value Machine”.  The nation’s fisheries have perfected an approach to fishing that nearly eliminates waste while maximizing profits. According to an analysis by the Iceland Ocean Cluster, Icelandic fishing operations utilize at least 80 percent of each cod caught in the North Atlantic, while neighbouring countries make use of just 50 percent of each fish. The head, guts and bones that are thrown into the sea by other fishing nations are turned into profitable by-products by Iceland’s enterprising fisheries, which are aiming for 100 percent cod utilization in the near future.

Photo: DoubleV/Depositphotos

5. It is perfectly situated as a trans-Atlantic transport hub

Reykjavík’s Keflavik International Airport has more daily direct flights to North American destinations than the other Nordic countries’ capital airports combined. Twenty airlines fly to and from Keflavik and the airport’s location in the North Atlantic means that travellers can reach major hubs on the US east coast in 5-7 hours and major European cities in as little as three hours. No wonder this former US military base is expected to see 7 million annual passengers by 2020.

6. It is the coolest location for data centers (in more ways than one)

Iceland’s location isn’t just ideal for flight connections. It also makes the country a perfect place for data centres. Iceland’s cooler climate and previously-mentioned green electricity grid combine to make it the ideal location for large data centres. Throw in Iceland’s low corporate tax rate, skilled workforce and vast high-bandwidth underwater connections to both North America and Europe – with even more trans-Atlantic connections in the works – and you’ve truly got the coolest location for data centres anywhere on Earth.

7. It is about to disrupt the world’s marine industries

Having already established one of the world’s leading prosthetics companies with Össur, Össur Kristinsson has now set out to change the world of boating and shipping. Kristinsson’s ÖK Hull, built by Icelandic company Rafnar, features pioneering hull-and-keel technology that dramatically reduces wave slamming, even at top speeds. Having been shown to reduce slamming by 20 times in independent testing, the ÖK Hull provides better safety, stability and control for work and leisures vessels alike.

8. It is home to the world’s strongest men

There are only 178,980 men in all of Iceland. This makes Hafthor Julius Bjornsson’s feat all the more remarkable. What, you’ve never heard of him? Perhaps you know him better as ‘The Mountain’ from the smash hit TV series Game of Thrones. Earlier this month, Bjornsson topped all comers at the World’s Strongest Man competition. What’s more, this was hardly the first time that an Icelander staked his claim to the title. The Mountain’s countrymen Jón Páll Sigmarsson and Magnús ver Magnússon both won the contest four times.

9. Its language is crazy intimidating – but it doesn’t matter!

If you’ve ever seen a long block of Icelandic text or can recall the cringe-worthy English-language news reports on the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, you’re probably too intimidated to even attempt a simple ‘hæ’. Good news: you don’t have to. English is widely spoken throughout Iceland, particularly in Reykjavík and at the nation’s tourism hotspots. But if you do want to try ‘hæ’, go for it – it sounds exactly like ‘hi’!

Learn more about doing business in Iceland

10. Its people are among the best-educated in the world

Iceland may have a small population, but it’s a very educated one. The comprehensive World's Most Literate Nations study declared Iceland the third most literate country in the world and over 40 percent of the population has a tertiary education. Despite its small size, Iceland has eight institutions of higher education that draw hundreds of students from around the world each year to take advantage of the many English-language courses.

11. It is the most peaceful place in the world

Maybe it's the gender equality or the high level of education (or maybe it's all those strong men) but Iceland has topped the Global Peace Index every year since 2008. Indeed, what's so interesting about Iceland's top rank for Societal Safety and Security is that the country is also one of the world's five least militarized countries.

Safest and least militarized? As with so much else about this volcanic gender-equal footballing nation, there's clearly a lot to be learned from Iceland.

Photo: stnazkul/Depositphotos

12. It’s a pioneer in the life sciences sector

Life sciences are thriving in Iceland and there is strong governmental support for research and innovation.

Today, the country is renowned for its work concerning human genetics and cancer research. Among other globally recognised life sciences companies established and based in the small Nordic country is ORF Genetics, a pioneering green biotech company producing growth factors and other recombinant proteins. 

Combining Iceland’s impressive academic network with its modern healthcare system, it’s a hotbed of innovation and one of the world’s most exciting centres for developments within this growing industry.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Invest in Iceland.


Swiss media stories among targets of ‘digital hitman’ company

Some articles published online by Swiss media outlets, including the SBC and 24 Heures, have been deleted or made invisible by Eliminalia, a Swiss-based e-reputation company that provides its services to criminals and corrupt politicians, a disinformation investigation has found.

Swiss media stories among targets of 'digital hitman' company

Journalists at French Swiss broadcaster RTS had sight of confidential documents that showed that thousands of investigative reports published by media outlets around the world had disappeared.

Eliminalia’s promise is: “We eliminate your past. We help you with your future.”

The e-reputation leader has three offices in Switzerland and further outposts all over the world, totalling around a dozen.

The company states that it uses legal methods to erase photos or negative comments and that its clients are victims of “unjustified’ online attacks, but according to RTS, the reality is very different.

The list of Eliminalia’s clients seen by RTS, one of 30 media firms taking part in a global disinformation campaign piloted by France’s Forbidden Stories, includes convicted sex traffickers, as well as fraudsters, money launderers and arms dealers, and even former Chilean torturers.

The company has more than 1,500 clients around the world, including 43 in Switzerland, RTS reports.

Several are Italian nationals living in Ticino who have paid to clear their mafia business names in Italy so they can build new businesses.

Other Swiss clients are involved in tax evasion or cryptocurrency scams. There’s even a circus performer who was recently convicted of sexual assault on a minor.

Those looking to clear their name online will need to pay Eliminalia from CHF 5,000 up to several hundred thousand Swiss francs.

A service for organised crime

According to digital law expert and lawyer Sebastien Fanti, the EU’s “right to be forgotten” rule can sometimes be justified.

People can legitimately request that websites or search engines remove certain information about them, depending on how serious this information is and when it dates back to.  

“A youthful mistake or a teenager’s stupidity should not follow a person all his or her life on the internet,” he told RTS. 

“With Eliminalia, it’s not about the right to be forgotten. This company erases the investigative work of journalists, it erases the truth. This company is a digital hitman,” he added. 

Eliminalia says it is able to erase any online newspaper article. Indeed, the confidential documents seen by the investigating journalists show that articles from Swiss media, such as, the SBC, and 24 Heures, as well as other outlets like Le Monde and Vice News, have disappeared.

How do they do it?

Computer scientists use various techniques to delete the articles or make them invisible. One of these is the so-called “drowning” technique, which involves using more than 600 fake online media, with names such as CNN News Today or London Uncensored, to post positive articles about Eliminalia clients.

These fake articles then appear at the top of a Google search with the real ones ‘drowned’ out, i.e. pushed to the back of Google’s results list.

Eliminalia also uses a technique that de-indexes articles by abusing the copyright declaration system set up by Google, Twitter and Facebook. It clones negative articles about Eliminalia clients, changes the date of the article and makes a copyright infringement claim.

This sleight-of-hand trick means they can de-index the genuine articles, making them invisible.

The company also uses hackers who erase documents or specific articles at the source. RTS said this information came from a Spanish security service source, but that the investigative team had not found any proof that a major European media outlet had been attacked in this way, 

Eliminalia did not respond to Forbidden Stories’ and RTS’ requests for comment, but they did threaten legal action via a letter from a French law firm.

Furthermore, despite founder Diego Sanchez’ past involvement in the trade of surrogate mothers, which attracted negative reporting, there are only positive articles and videos about him online now.

This is presumably because the wealthy entrepreneur has used his company’s services to clean up his own past, RTS suggested.