The French Supervisory Authority has set 31 March 2021 as the end of the “reasonable period” to bring websites and mobile applications into compliance.

Following the adoption and publication of its updated guidelines along with practical recommendations on the use of cookies on 1 October 2020 (see our alert on the subject here), the French Supervisory Authority (CNIL) reaffirmed on 4 February 2021 the need for private and public players to comply with the new obligations regarding cookies and other tracers (together, Cookies – See the CNIL press release of 4 February 2021 (in French)).

To make its action plan on online advertising effective and in view targeting of the deficiencies witnessed in both the public and private sectors, the CNIL set a specific deadline for the implementation of its recommendation: 31 March 2021.

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On 4 July 2019, the French Data Protection (CNIL) published its Guidelines on Cookies and Other Tracking Technologies (the Guidelines, available in French here). The Guidelines further detailed the nature of the interplay between the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which reinforced expectations towards obtaining consent to data processing operations when such consent is required), and the ePrivacy Directive which more specifically addresses the privacy requirements on cookies and other tracking technologies. Indeed, while the ePrivacy Directive was expected to be updated through an ePrivacy Regulation (latest draft proposal available here), on or before GDPR entered into force, it remains under discussion at the European level to this day, and subject to intense lobbying by all stakeholders.

Further to the publication of the Guidelines, several French professional associations in the online marketing, distance selling and online media activities initiated legal action against the CNIL, before the French Administrative Supreme Court (the Conseil d’État), on the grounds that the CNIL acted above and beyond its authority in adopting the Guidelines, notably by (i) generally prohibiting “cookie walls”, (ii) recognizing a right of data subjects to refuse cookies, (iii) requiring the identification of the data controller for the cookies, (iv) mandating an exhaustive and up-to-date information of the data subjects on the cookies, regardless of their involvement in data processing operations, (v) requiring that the users’ agreement must be expressed by a separate action for each of the distinct purposes brought to their knowledge with a view to the storage of information or access to information already stored in their terminal equipment, and (vi) imposing maximum data retention periods for cookies.

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France’s top administrative court has overruled the country’s data authority regarding “cookie walls”, stating that as an agency that only offers guidelines – so-called flexible laws – the authority cannot prohibit their use.

Cookie walls prevent internet users from accessing websites unless they consent to the use of tracking cookies, which often gather data used by advertisers.

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Approaching its second anniversary this month, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has never been as relevant as in these unprecedented COVID-19 times. While several countries are considering the implementation of contact tracing apps, a consensus has seemed to surface on subjecting their use to a voluntary basis. The notion of “consent” remains therefore the cornerstone (albeit not the only one) of the European data protection framework.

In that regard, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) issued a revised take on one of the first guidelines published by its predecessor, the WP29, in April 2018 (available here, which itself built upon the WP29 pre-GDPR interpretation of consent under Opinion 15/2011, dated 13 July 2011), taking into consideration the difficulties encountered by the stakeholders in the operational implementation of GDPR compliance. These clarifications come at a time where discrepancies in interpreting what constitutes valid “consent” emerge between various Member States’ Supervisory Authorities, especially as applicable to the use of cookies and other tracking technologies (together, “cookies”).

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