GDPR Consent Requirements: A Detailed Guide for 2024 Compliance

By Morgan Sullivan

Senior Content Marketing Manager

March 14, 20249 min read

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At a glance

  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires that organizations collect explicit, informed, and freely given consent for personal data processing.
  • GDPR consent requirements underscore the importance of transparency, granularity, and the ease of withdrawal to ensure data subject rights are respected and protected.
  • Effective consent management requires meticulous documentation of consent details, as well as streamlined processes for consent withdrawal and data deletion—highlighting the critical role of clear communication and user-friendly consent interfaces.

Table of contents

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has reshaped the way consumer data is handled in the European Union (EU) and worldwide.

The GDPR elevates personal data protection standards, mandating explicit and informed consent for processing personal data. Staying compliant with GDPR's consent requirements demands that you, as a data controller or processor, understand the nuances of obtaining, recording, and managing consent.

Abiding by these requirements not only aligns your organization with legal expectations but also safeguards the trust of your customers and stakeholders.

Since its enactment in 2018, organizations within the EU and those dealing with EU citizens' data have been required to thoroughly implement GDPR consent mechanisms. However, changes and updates to these regulations mean that your strategies must evolve to remain compliant.

Under GDPR, consent must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous. It implies a clear positive action—such as a written statement or another affirmative move—which signifies agreement to personal data processing.

This means, among other things, that the data subject's consent must be:

  • Freely given: No imbalance of power; the individual has a genuine choice.
  • Specific: Linked to a particular purpose; not broad or vague.
  • Informed: The individual must know the data controller's identity and the purpose of data processing.
  • Unambiguous: A clear affirmative action or an overt confirmation.

Valid consent within the GDPR framework is anchored on several principles to ensure the protection of data subjects.

  1. Transparency: Data subjects must be provided with clear and concise information regarding data processing activities.
  2. Granularity: Consent must be given for distinct processing operations; blanket consent is not acceptable.
  3. Ease of withdrawal: It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.
  4. Documented: Organizations must keep records of consent to demonstrate compliance.

Managing consent over time necessitates a proactive approach, respecting the data subject’s rights throughout the entire data lifecycle.

  • Collection: Capture consent precisely at the point of data collection.
  • Storage: Store consent information securely with time stamps and details of the consent given.
  • Utilization: Use the data only for the specified purposes consented to by the individual.
  • Renewal/Withdrawal: Regularly review consents and provide straightforward mechanisms for renewal or withdrawal.

Obtaining consent under GDPR is not just about ticking a box. The process should be user-friendly, transparent, and designed to uphold individual autonomy.

GDPR Article 7 states:

"If the data subject’s consent is given in the context of a written declaration which also concerns other matters, the request for consent shall be presented in a manner which is clearly distinguishable from the other matters, in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language."

An organization’s consent interface is the bridge between their data collection processes and users. It should prioritize user experience by being:

  • Clear: Use simple language, avoiding technical jargon.
  • Accessible: Ensure your design is navigable by all users, including those with disabilities.
  • Convenient: Place the consent request in an intuitive location, making it easy for users to understand what actions are needed.

Consent must be a voluntary, uncoerced decision. To ensure this, you should:

  • Avoid predetermination: Do not use pre-ticked boxes that imply consent without user interaction.
  • Offer choice: Give users the option to consent to specific uses of data rather than a blanket agreement.
  • Facilitate withdrawal: Provide an easy method for users to withdraw their consent at any time.

GDPR places significant emphasis on the ability to easily withdraw consent. Taken from Article 7:

"The data subject shall have the right to withdraw his or her consent at any time. The withdrawal of consent shall not affect the lawfulness of processing based on consent before its withdrawal. Prior to giving consent, the data subject shall be informed thereof. It shall be as easy to withdraw as to give consent."

How an organization manages consent requests is equally as important as how that consent is obtained.

Your records should allow you to demonstrate compliance at any time, with clear documentation of both the collection and management of users’ consent preferences.

Once again, from Article 7 of GDPR:

"Where processing is based on consent, the controller shall be able to demonstrate that the data subject has consented to processing of his or her personal data."

While it's possible to accomplish this manually, using solutions like Transcend Consent can significantly streamline these efforts and mitigate organizational risk.

When you collect consent, ensure you maintain a detailed record of the following elements:

  • Date and time of consent
  • Method by which consent was obtained (e.g., online form, paper form)
  • Precise information provided to the data subject before consent was given
  • Identity of the data subject who consented
  • The specific details of the consent provided, including the scope and context

A tool like Transcend Consent will automatically collect and store this for you, but if you were to do this manually, your consent log may look something like this:

Date and Time - YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM

Method - Online form

Information Provided - Privacy policy, use of data, third-party sharing details

Data Subject Identity - [Full Name / ID]

Details of Consent - Consent to process personal data for marketing

Once consent is withdrawn, you must promptly remove the data subject’s personal data from your processing activities.

Process for data deletion:

  1. Acknowledge the withdrawal of consent.
  2. Verify the identity of the data subject.
  3. Locate and delete the individual's personal data from all systems.
  4. Provide confirmation of deletion to the data subject.

Again, tools like Transcend Consent will accomplish these tasks automatically so you don't need to worry about introducing human error or liability into the process.

Documenting withdrawal of consent should include the:

  • Date and time of the withdrawal request
  • Acknowledgment sent to the data subject
  • Confirmation of data deletion

GDPR requires explicit consent for data collection and use in digital marketing, specifically as it relates to third-party cookies (which often track user behavior across the internet).

Email marketing and privacy notices

When conducting email marketing, you must obtain clear consent from subscribers before sending them marketing emails. This consent should be:

  • Freely given: Subscribers are not coerced or misled into giving consent.
  • Specific: Consent is requested for each distinct marketing activity.
  • Informed: Subscribers know exactly what they're consenting to.

To comply, include a privacy notice in sign-up forms detailing:

  1. The types of personal data you collect
  2. How you'll use the data
  3. Third parties with whom the data may be shared
  4. How subscribers can withdraw consent

Cookies and online tracking require active consent. Cookie consent means:

  • Users actively opt-in to allow cookies
  • You explain the purpose of cookies and tracking
  • You provide options to accept or reject different types of cookies

For full compliance, your website should feature a cookie consent banner with at least the following options:

  1. Accept all cookies
  2. Reject all cookies
  3. Customize settings for different cookie categories

Compliance verification and enforcement

Ensuring GDPR compliance is a continuous process that involves periodic verification measures and enforcement actions in case of violations.

You are responsible for understanding these mechanisms to maintain compliance and address issues proactively.

Audits and inspections

Regular audits: Conduct internal audits consistently to ensure all GDPR processes are being followed correctly. You must document these audits as evidence of due diligence.

External inspections: Be prepared for inspections by supervisory authorities. Keep your records well-maintained and easily accessible, as these will need to be presented during such inspections.

Handling non-compliance and data breaches

Data breaches: If a breach occurs, report it to the relevant supervisory authority within 72 hours. Notify affected individuals without undue delay if the breach poses a high risk to their rights and freedoms.

Non-compliance penalties: Non-compliance can result in heavy fines. Fines are administered as follows:

  • Up to €10 million, or 2% of the annual global turnover – for minor infractions.
  • Up to €20 million, or 4% of the annual global turnover – for more severe violations.

Implement corrective actions as advised by regulatory bodies to address non-compliance issues.

"Separate consent" under GDPR refers to the requirement that consent must be obtained separately for different processing activities.

This means when an organization collects personal data for multiple purposes, it must seek and obtain explicit consent from individuals for each specific purpose rather than obtaining a single, blanket consent for all processing activities.

Valid consent under GDPR is defined as any freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous indication of your wishes. It means you've made a clear affirmative action signifying agreement to personal data processing, such as a written statement or another verifiable means.

"Explicit" consent means the data subject has expressly confirmed his or her wish to consent. It's necessary for processing sensitive personal data, transferring personal data outside the EU/EEA, or for decisions based solely on automated processing, including profiling.

A GDPR-compliant consent form must include the identity of the controller, the purpose of data processing, information about your right to withdraw consent, the use of the data for automated decision-making, and, where relevant, the possible risks of transferring data outside the EEA.

To ensure consent meets the GDPR's criteria, organizations should present choices clearly and separately from other terms, provide comprehensive information on data use, and avoid any vague or blanket requests for consent. 

What are the conditions that must be satisfied according to GDPR Article 7 regarding consent?

GDPR Article 7 requires organizations to:

  • Clearly demonstrate consent was obtained from the data subject
  • Provide easy withdrawal of consent
  • Regularly verify that consent is still valid

Additionally, if consent is given in a written declaration that also concerns other matters, the request for consent must be presented in a manner clearly distinguishable from the other matters.

Penalties for non-compliance with GDPR consent requirements can be severe, with fines up to €20 million or 4% of the company's global annual turnover—whichever is higher. This underscores the importance of adhering strictly to GDPR regulations.

As you can see, maintaining GDPR compliance can often feel like navigating a minefield. There are so many rules to keep in mind, it can feel overwhelming. That's why we built Transcend Consent Management.

A full-stack consent solution for collecting, tracking, and maintaining consent preferences across all your digital properties, Transcend Consent Management gives your organization the coverage and visibility you need to ensure GDPR compliance.

Consider switching to Transcend Consent when your legacy solution relies on static site scans and requires tedious maintenance, yet still leaks unconsented data. Transcend Consent Management collects consent and automates enforcement across every interface, from websites to mobile apps, offering your organization:

  • Continuous detection of 200+ kinds of trackers across every inch of your site.
  • Automatic network-level enforcement–no manual tag manager configuration.
  • Out of the box support for IAB TCF, Google Consent Mode, and Do Not Sell (eg. Meta LDU).

Reach out to learn more.

By Morgan Sullivan

Senior Content Marketing Manager

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