GDPR What you need to know about Consent

GDPR – What you need to know about Consent

Who should read this?

This post is written for Data Controllers and anyone who needs to understand what the obligations of the Data Controller under GDPR are for obtaining consent. We’re talking about customers here, but the same obligations apply to any other personal data that you hold.

What do you need to know?

Over the last several years, data-driven marketing has been increasingly adopted as companies strive to make more effective use of their customer data. However the advent of GDPR has led many to question whether this trend can continue. The main problem is the increased burden for obtaining consent from the customer that GDPR places on you, if you are the data controller. Before we look at this in more detail though, let’s examine when consent must be explicit and when it need not be.

Although GDPR makes several mentions of “explicit consent” rather than just “consent”, it does not define what it means by “explicit”. Explicit consent is required for automated decision-making including profiling e.g. for the purpose of deciding whether to extend an offer. If you’re relying on consent (rather than one of the other provisions of the GDPR) for processing of sensitive personal data or transferring personal data outside of the EEA, then it must be explicit.

You don’t need explicit consent if, for example:

  • You need to use the customer data to fulfil your obligations under a contract
  • It’s required by law
  • It’s in the customer’s vital interests
  • It’s in your legitimate interests, except where such interests are overridden by the interests, rights or freedoms of the customer.

Under the current Data Protection Act, consent must be freely given, specific and informed but it can be implied. As now, under the GDPR, sensitive personal data requires explicit consent. Under the GDPR, consent must also be unambiguous and you must be able to demonstrate that consent was given. It must be clearly distinguishable, intelligible and easily accessible and the customer must be informed of their right to withdraw consent – it needs to be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give consent. There is also (under GDPR) the much discussed “Right to be forgotten” – the right to request the deletion or removal of personal data where there is no compelling reason for its continued processing. When a customer withdraws consent, they may be more likely to exercise the right to be forgotten, so systems need to be designed with this in mind.

Under GDPR it’s no longer acceptable to bundle permission into the terms and conditions governing supply, they must be unbundled from the contract. Each aspect for which consent is being sought also has to be explained in granular detail. To be “freely given”, consent should not be required if it is not necessary for the performance of the contract, which could affect some providers of free web services – as discussed in more detail in this post.

Do I need consent for Direct Marketing?

The legitimate interest test needs some clarification. GDPR includes an explicit mention of Direct Marketing as a legitimate interest, but as Steve Henderson points out in this interesting post on the DMA website, this must be seen in the context of how you come to obtain that data in the first place, as well as how you’re going to use it. For example if you have obtained the contact details electronically then you continue to be bound by the Privacy Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and the EU E-Privacy Directive, irrespective of the legitimate interest test. Obviously if the personal data is used for direct mail and the data has been obtained in store or via a coupon, the legitimate interest test is applicable.

How is it going to work in the UK?

Now I want to look at how GDPR may be enshrined in UK regulations. There has been a lot of reaction from the industry to the Information Commissioner’s Office consultation on its GDPR consent guidance; it’s good to see TechUK representing these views to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) robustly. The draft guidance states that consent requires a positive opt-in and that pre-ticked boxes or any other method of consent by default should not be used. However, the guidance also recognises that other opt-in methods might include signing a consent statement, oral confirmation, a binary choice presented with equal prominence, or switching a setting away from the default.

In the draft guidance there is a tendency to treat opt-in consent and “explicit consent” as the same, which GDPR itself does not. One potential issue which could arise is the effect that requiring opt-in consent for non-sensitive personal data could have on suppression processing: our comment to TechUK (which it included in its response to DCMS) was:

“One example of where an over-reliance on opt-in consent for non-sensitive personal data could have unintended consequences is where customers have moved to a new address. Currently, there are a handful of providers of lists of people who have moved which are used by many companies, either to suppress correspondence to that person at the old address, or (if the new address is available and it’s for a permitted purpose) to update correspondence records to the new address. The information for these lists is typically provided by financial services companies, who will not provide the data if they believe that it may be contrary to GDPR. Without the new address, suppliers would not know that their customer has moved and would be unable to contact them for permission to send correspondence – it would rely on the customer notifying each company that they have done business with of their new address. An inevitable result therefore of requiring an opt-in consent for non-sensitive personal data would be more mail for the old occupant sent to the new occupant at the customer’s old address.”

The bottom line

Although it’s easy to get bogged down in the detail of what you need to do regarding consent and to look on its tightening up by GDPR as a negative, DQM GRC research this year shows that an increasing proportion of consumers are ready to share their personal data if it’s properly explained why they should do so and the benefit to them: “two-thirds of consumers said they are willing to share their personal information in the right circumstances – a positive shift since 2016 when only half said this was the case”. The fundamental truth is still the same: an engaged customer who feels that they are in charge of the relationship is more likely to be a valuable customer.

Further reading

Some more information, including tips on how to handle the subject of consent, is in this article from Kemp Little.

In the next post, we’ll look at the differing obligations of Data Controllers and Data Processors.