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Striking The Balance: Crafting Effective Data Consent Mechanisms

by: Arun Teja Polcumpally

SUMMARY

  • India’s Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Act sets guidelines for data handling, and enforcement mechanisms, and penalises for non-compliance
  • The cornerstone of the DPDP Act lies in defining consent as a conscious, voluntary agreement between data principals and data fiduciaries/processors
  • Despite the potential for information fatigue, the precise consent mechanism does not entirely address the issue of coercive consent

In the rapidly evolving landscape of digital interactions, ensuring that individuals provide meaningful and informed consent for the use of their personal data is paramount.

Accordingly, India’s Digital Personal Data Protection (DPDP) Act sets guidelines for data handling, enforcement mechanisms, and penalises for non-compliance, ensuring greater control and security for individuals’ sensitive information. However, enacting this legislation requires proper rules and importantly, a consent management framework.

The cornerstone of the DPDP Act lies in defining consent as a conscious, voluntary agreement between data principals and data fiduciaries/processors. This agreement should hinge on mutual awareness of potential risks, outcomes, and the purpose of data usage.

In addition, the operational definition of consent should be designed after identifying and understanding the issues with the current consent mechanisms because they are alleged to be illusionary with limited alternatives.

Some scholars even argue that the current consent mechanism is weaker in protecting user data and privacy. These reasons further reiterate the necessity to investigate the current problems in the current consent mechanisms.

Overall, there are three major challenges to the consent mechanisms today:

Unwitting Consent: Unwitting consent arises due to lengthy and complex consent notices. Users may struggle to

comprehend the risks and outcomes associated with data sharing or data processing. Mitigating this requires simplifying language, offering visual aids, and advocating for clear communication.

Coerced Consent: Coerced consent emerges when users face limited alternatives or encounter manipulative tactics.

Addressing this involves adhering to regulations against dark patterns and ensuring users have viable alternatives when providing consent.

Incapacitated Consent: Valid consent among students and children presents a unique challenge. It is difficult to validate the consent provided by people who are not in the capacity to provide consent (under 18 years). Leveraging government digital IDs and established verification methods can help ascertain age and gain parental consent.

Broad Vs Precise Consent

It is not that these challenges are never identified. They are partly solved by the two mechanisms – broad consent and precise consent. They have emerged as pivotal frameworks, shaping the ethical and legal dimensions of data utilisation.

Broad consent, as a method of obtaining user approval for data processing, involves presenting a single notice outlining the various ways in which data will be used. This approach is seen as a means to safeguard user privacy and freedom, positioning broad consent as an initial step in data processing or collection. However, challenges arise with broad consent.

Companies may inundate users with extensive information on data usage, often ignored due to time constraints, complex language, service requirements, and other factors, leading to unwitting consent. One example here will be the cookie consent notices.

The consent notice should showcase all options including rejecting or accepting all cookies, in a single, equally emphasised interface. Most of the time, the option of “Accept all Cookies” will be displayed on the notice page and to be selective in consent options, further navigation would be required.

Moreover, the uniformity of broad consent across similar services limits user choice, potentially resulting in coerced consent. In contrast, precise consent entails a more detailed and specific approval process, requiring users to consent to individual purposes or types of data usage separately.

While this method provides increased transparency and user control, challenges emerge in the case of algorithmic services, making it challenging to pinpoint the exact use case or contextualise consent.

Despite the potential for information fatigue, the precise consent mechanism does not entirely address the issue of coercive consent, as repeated notices may still compel users to consent without fully understanding the terms of data usage.

In both the broad and precise consent mechanisms, incapacitated consent can be avoided by using government digital IDs safely locked and displayed using applications like Digilocker to ascertain the age. Methods such as Email verification, OTP verification to get consent from the parents can be further added to get the parental consent.

Not just the consent notices, there has to be equal importance given to the consent withdrawal. DPDP Act already mandates that digital service companies must allow a user to withdraw consent in an easy manner as they provide consent to use their personal data. In addition, the consent mechanism should mandate swift erasure of personal data upon consent withdrawal.

Finally, the grievance redressal provisions should also include the usage of coercive consent practices. In conclusion, crafting an effective data consent mechanism requires balancing legal definitions, addressing challenges, and leveraging innovative solutions. The rules of DPDP Act, with operational definition and a critical look into the above-mentioned issues, can create a foundation for a transparent, user-centric data privacy landscape.

Source: Inc42

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