Q: What is a data controller of a data processor?
A: The data controller determines the purposes for which and the means by which personal data is processed. So, if your company/organisation decides ‘why’ and ‘how’ the personal data should be processed it is the data controller. Employees processing personal data within your organisation do so to fulfil your tasks as data controller.
Your company/organisation is a joint controller when together with one or more organisations it jointly determines ‘why’ and ‘how’ personal data should be processed. Joint controllers must enter into an arrangement setting out their respective responsibilities for complying with the GDPR rules. The main aspects of the arrangement must be communicated to the individuals whose data is being processed.
The data processor processes personal data only on behalf of the controller. The data processor is usually a third party external to the company. However, in the case of groups of undertakings, one undertaking may act as processor for another undertaking.
The duties of the processor towards the controller must be specified in a contract or another legal act. For example, the contract must indicate what happens to the personal data once the contract is terminated. A typical activity of processors is offering IT solutions, including cloud storage. The data processor may only sub-contract a part of its task to another processor or appoint a joint processor when it has received prior written authorisation from the data controller.
There are situations where an entity can be a data controller, or a data processor, or both.
Controller and processor
A brewery has many employees. It signs a contract with a payroll company to pay the wages. The brewery tells the payroll company when the wages should be paid, when an employee leaves or has a pay rise, and provides all other details for the salary slip and payment. The payroll company provides the IT system and stores the employees’ data. The brewery is the data controller and the payroll company is the data processor.
Your company/organisation offers babysitting services via an online platform. At the same time your company/organisation has a contract with another company allowing you to offer value-added services. Those services include the possibility for parents not only to choose the babysitter but also to rent games and DVDs that the babysitter can bring. Both companies are involved in the technical set-up of the website. In that case, the two companies have decided to use the platform for both purposes (babysitting services and DVD/games rental) and will very often share clients’ names. Therefore, the two companies are joint controllers because not only do they agree to offer the possibility of ‘combined services’ but they also design and use a common platform.
Article 4(7) and (8), Articles 24, 26, 28 and 29 and Recitals (74), (79) and (81) of the GDPR
Article 29 Working Party Opinion 1/2010 on the concepts of ‘controller’ and ‘processor’ (WP 169)
The above FAQ was included on the European Commission’s website, which can be located here: