WP29 Guidelines on the notion of consent according to the GDPR – Part 1

26. January 2018

According to the GDPR, consent is one of the six lawful bases mentioned in Art. 6. In order for consent to be valid and compliant with the GDPR it needs to reflect the data subjects real choice and control.

The Working Party 29 (WP 29) clarifies and specifies the “requirements for obtaining and demonstrating” such a valid consent in its Guidelines released in December 2017.

The guidelines start off with an analysis of Article 4 (11) of the GDPR and then discusses the elements of valid consent. Referring to the Opinion 15/2011 on the definition of consent, “obtaining consent also does not negate or in any way diminish the controller’s obligations to observe the principles of processing enshrined in the GDPR, especially Article 5 of the GDPR with regard to fairness, necessity and proportionality, as well as data quality.”

The WP29 illustrates the elements of valid consent, such as the consent being freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous. For example, a consent is not considered as freely given if a mobile app for photo editing requires the users to have their GPS location activated simply in order to collect behavioural data aside from the photo editing. The WP29 emphasizes that consent to processing of unnecessary personal data “cannot be seen as a mandatory consideration in exchange for performance.”

Another important aspect taken into consideration is the imbalance of powers, e.g. in the matter of public authorities or in the context of employment. “Consent can only be valid if the data subject is able to exercise a real choice, and there is no risk of deception, intimidation, coercion or significant negative consequences (e.g. substantial extra costs) if he/she does not consent. Consent will not be free in cases where there is any element of compulsion, pressure or inability to exercise free will. “

Art. 7(4) GDPR emphasizes that the performance of a contract is not supposed to be conditional on consent to the processing of personal data that is not necessary for the performance of the contract. The WP 29 states that “compulsion to agree with the use of personal data additional to what is strictly necessary limits data subject’s choices and stands in the way of free consent.” Depending on the scope of the contract or service, the term “necessary for the performance of a contract… …needs to be interpreted strictly”. The WP29 lays down examples of cases where the bundling of situations is acceptable.

If a service involves multiple processing operations or multiple purposes, the data subject should have the freedom to choose which purpose they accept. This concept of granularity requires the purposes to be separated and consent to be obtained for each purpose.

Withdrawal of consent has to be possible without any detriment, e.g. in terms of additional costs or downgrade of services. Any other negative consequence such as deception, intimidation or coercion is also considered to be invalidating. The WP29 therefore suggests controllers to ensure proof that consent has been given accordingly.

(will be soon continued in Part 2)