It has been almost a year since the European Commission published a final draft of a Code of Conduct on privacy for mHealth mobile applications (the “Code”). Our previous post summarizes the draft and its application to app developers. However, we noted that the Article 29 Working Party (the “WP29”), an independent advisory body comprised of representatives from all EU Data Protection Authorities, had to comment on the draft before it was formally adopted. In a letter dated 10 April 2017, the WP29 has finally set out its comments on the draft, and identified areas of improvement.

Comments on the draft

The letter begins by setting out the WP29’s expectations for the Code:

  • The Code needs to be compliant with the Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46/EC, the “Directive”) and its national implementing legislation.
  • The Code must be of adequate quality.
  • The Code must provide sufficient added value to the Directive and other applicable data protection legislation.
  • The Code should continue to be relevant following the transition to the General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2016/679, the “GDPR”).

The WP29 is quite critical of the draft Code, and identifies a number of ways that the draft fails to add value to existing data protection legislation. The WP29’s general comments are that:

  • The Code does not elaborate sufficiently on the relationship between the Directive and national legislation implementing the Directive in individual EU Member States.
  • While the Code’s stated aim is to facilitate data protection compliance and not to address other compliance issues, it should nonetheless take into account other legislation that impacts on the prime objective of data compliance (e.g., provisions on cookies in the ePrivacy Directive (Directive 2002/58/EC)).
  • The Code needs to be clearer on the roles of the parties involved in the processing of personal data (i.e., whether the app developer is a data controller, data processor or both).
  • The Code should be re-evaluated in light of the relevant provisions of the GDPR to ensure that the content of the Code is consistent with the definitions given in both the Directive and the GDPR.

Specific comments

The WP29 also sets out more specific observations on areas in which the Code requires improvement. In summary:

  • Governance and monitoring model: It was not clear whether the model detailed in the Code would be compliant with some of the new requirements of the GDPR. In addition, further information was needed on: (1) the composition of the Assembly and how membership was to be managed; (2) how the monitoring body would be accredited; and (3) the financial contributions required from different members (the WP29 was specifically concerned with ensuring that fees did not preclude wide participation).
  • Practical guidelines for data controllers: The Code should make clear that consent to personal data processing should fulfil all requirements of the GDPR and the Directive, and guidance in relation to obtaining consent to the processing of children’s data should be more thorough. At the same time, the Code should acknowledge that there are other conditions that render data processing fair and lawful, and refer explicitly to them. It should also identify safeguards to raise awareness of the possible risks associated with the use of mHealth apps.
  • Data protection principles: Whilst the “practical guidelines for data controllers” referred to the necessity of safeguards for data subjects, it did not mention that these safeguards should be “appropriate”, in line with data protection principles. Further, the Code should refer to all of the data protection principles, or explain why they are not relevant.
  • Information, transparency and data subjects rights: The Code should require developers to make more information about the role of the data controller available to end users. It did not provide sufficient information on how data subjects could exert their rights, or how data controllers and data processors should meet their obligations. The Code should refer to the relevant provisions of the GDPR in relation to transfer of personal data to third countries. The legal basis and requirements for processing data for marketing purposes should also be referred to, such as the relevant sections of the GDPR.
  • Security: The Code should include more details and relevant examples on how app developers can integrate “privacy by design” and “privacy by default” into their development processes, as well as being attentive to legal restrictions relating to retention periods. Specific provisions in relation to data protection breaches should be included in line with the definitions of personal data contained in the Directive and the GDPR.

The draft will now need to be reconsidered by the drafting group to take these comments into account. The WP29 specifically states: “When revising the draft, please consider carefully what “added value” the code of conduct provides as a whole and, in particular, what specific examples, practical solutions or recommendations you could draw from discussions with stakeholders, ...” In the meantime, given the shortage of guidance in this area, developers may choose to follow the Code, and the recommendations from the WP29 in order to conform to best practice.