This cartoon is about consent under the GDPR. Under the GDPR Article 6, consent is one of the six lawful bases to process personal data. Article 7 provides further guidance about consent, including the data subject’s right to withdraw consent. The meaning of what “consent” requires is most thoroughly stated in Recital 32:
Consent should be given by a clear affirmative act establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her, such as by a written statement, including by electronic means, or an oral statement. This could include ticking a box when visiting an internet website, choosing technical settings for information society services or another statement or conduct which clearly indicates in this context the data subject’s acceptance of the proposed processing of his or her personal data. Silence, pre-ticked boxes or inactivity should not therefore constitute consent. Consent should cover all processing activities carried out for the same purpose or purposes. When the processing has multiple purposes, consent should be given for all of them. If the data subject’s consent is to be given following a request by electronic means, the request must be clear, concise and not unnecessarily disruptive to the use of the service for which it is provided.
This weekend, the results of an experiment conducted by researchers and Facebook were released, creating a fierce debate over the ethics of the endeavor. The experiment involved 689,003 people on Facebook whose News Feed was adjusted to contain either more positive or more negative emotional content. The researchers were looking for whether this had an effect on these people’s moods. And it did, albeit a small one. People exposed to more positive content had posts that were more positive, and those exposed to more negative content had posts that were more negative. This was measured by the types of words they used.
The experiment launched a fierce response from critics, some of whom decried it as unethical and creepy. In my view, it isn’t productive to castigate Facebook or the researchers, as the problems here emerge from some very difficult unresolved issues that go far beyond this experiment and Facebook. I want to explore these issues, because I’m more interested in making progress on these issues than on casting stones.