Unveiling GDPR Consent Harvesting Scams: How Deceptive Tactics Can Have Legal Consequences


Author: Chinmay Oza, a student at Symbiosis Law School, Pune


The European Union (EU) implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to improve the safeguarding of personal data and privacy for everyone in the EU. As of May 25, 2018, GDPR has been established to standardize data privacy regulations in Europe, empowering people with more authority over their personal information and streamlining the legal landscape for global companies. The rule affects all companies within the EU and those outside the EU that provide goods or services to or track the activities of EU citizens. This broad coverage guarantees full safeguarding of personal information no matter where the company is based.

One of the critical components of GDPR is the idea of consent, which underscores the belief that individuals should be able to manage their personal information. GDPR states that consent should be voluntary, particular, informed, and transparent. This implies that people must fully comprehend what they agree to and freely consent. GDPR sets specific rules for acquiring, documenting, and overseeing consent, and failure to comply with these rules can result in severe legal and monetary consequences. This emphasizes the significance of comprehending and following the GDPR consent regulations.

Consent harvesting scams trick users into giving consent either misleadingly or without their complete understanding and agreement. These fraudulent schemes exploit gaps and uncertainties in consent processes to collect personal information illegally. Frequent instances include pre-selected checkboxes, obscured terms and conditions, combining consent with other services, and utilizing deceptive tactics in user interface design to trick users into unwittingly giving consent. As digital interactions and data-driven services grow, the importance of consent mechanisms’ integrity also increases. Consent harvesting scams erode the trust that GDPR is meant to build between data controllers and data subjects. Dealing with these fraudulent activities is crucial to safeguarding people’s privacy and upholding the integrity of regulations intended to protect personal information. The growing complexity of these scams presents significant obstacles for regulators and organizations working to adhere to GDPR.

This article aims to investigate consent harvesting scams and assess the legal repercussions of these actions. This article explores the different strategies used in consent harvesting scams, showing how these techniques sidestep GDPR and exploit users’ lack of knowledge or comprehension. This article thoroughly analyzes consent-harvesting scams by identifying and categorizing the tactics involved. The article will also examine the legal consequences of consent-gathering schemes within the GDPR, such as penalties, sanctions, and other measures enforced by Data Protection Authorities (DPAs). Using case studies and legal analysis, this article will discuss the possible risks and liabilities for organizations that participate in deceptive consent practices, stressing the significance of following GDPR.

Understanding the GDPR Consent Requirements

It is essential to comprehend GDPR consent rules to ensure adherence to the regulation and safeguard the privacy rights of individuals. According to the GDPR, consent is a voluntary, precise, knowledgeable, and clear expression of the data subject’s desires. This implies that individuals need to give explicit and positive consent for their data to be processed, and this consent cannot be inferred or presumed. Consent must be provided in a clear and specific manner before sensitive data, such as health information or information about race or ethnicity, can be processed to make sure that individuals are fully informed and agree to how their sensitive information will be used.

To achieve valid consent under GDPR, organizations must implement systems enabling individuals to consent through a transparent affirmative act. This could involve marking a box yet to be marked, choosing technical configurations for information society services, or any other action or statement that clearly shows agreement. The consent request must be displayed in a simple and easy-to-understand manner, using clear and straightforward language. This ensures that people have all the information they need before consent, such as the reason for processing their data and who is in charge.

In addition, GDPR provides data subjects with various rights related to their consent. Individuals are free to retract their consent whenever they choose, and withdrawing consent should be as simple as giving it. This allows individuals to take back control of their data at any time. Furthermore, people have the right to view their personal information, correct any mistakes, and request the deletion of data that is no longer needed or is being used unlawfully. These rights support the idea that individuals should have significant authority over their data and how it is utilized.

Types of Consent Harvesting Scams 

Scammers use clever and misleading methods to gather personal information from users without their permission to bypass the GDPR rules. A prevalent scam involves deceptive consent requests. In this strategy, organizations employ pre-selected checkboxes or packaged consent methods to suggest user consent without a distinct and deliberate choice from the user. Pre-selected options, such as pre-ticked boxes, imply that users agree to data processing unless they choose to deselect them. This method goes against the GDPR’s need for explicit consent, which states that users must actively show their agreement.

Combining consent for multiple data processing activities into a single agreement is bundled consent, another misleading practice. Users frequently ask to consent to unneeded data processing to use a service. For example, a user may be required to consent to sharing their data with third-party partners to register on a website, even if this sharing is not necessary for the service they are using. The absence of detailed consent choices hinders users from making well-informed decisions about their data and goes against the GDPR’s requirement for explicit and specific consent.

Dark patterns and deceitful user interface designs are another common and sneaky scam used to collect consent. Dark patterns refer to deliberate user interface designs that manipulate users into taking specific actions, typically benefiting the organization while disregarding user autonomy. For example, choices for consent could be hidden in wordy and intricate terms of service agreements, which only a small number of users carefully review. Furthermore, employing clear or specific language can help users comprehend the permissions they are granting. Specific interfaces are created to highlight the “agree” button over the “decline” button to subtly influence users to provide consent without thoroughly contemplating their choice. These deceptive tactics take advantage of users’ mental shortcuts and limited time, leading to consent that is not informed or freely granted.

Illegitimate data sharing by unauthorized third parties is a troubling strategy in scams that harvest consent. In these situations, companies gather user data while claiming to offer a service but later share or sell that data to other companies without gaining apparent approval from the users. Frequently, users need to realize that their data is being sent to outside parties as the details are either buried in small text or expressed in unclear language. This action violates the GDPR’s rule of obtaining consent and puts users at risk of privacy violations and data misuse by unidentified entities. The absence of clear information on the handling and sharing user data erodes faith in digital services and puts users’ control of their personal information at risk.

Utilizing these misleading tactics breaches the GDPR and weakens the trust between users and service providers. Users’ lack of awareness and inability to make informed decisions about their data is taken advantage of by misleading consent requests, dark patterns, and unauthorized data-sharing practices. Dealing with these issues is essential to complying with GDPR and protecting individuals’ privacy rights in the digital era. Organizations must prioritize implementing transparent and ethical data processing practices, offering clear and accessible consent choices, and honoring the autonomy and privacy of their users. In this way, they can build trust, guarantee regulatory compliance, and promote a safer and more privacy-conscious digital atmosphere.

Legal Consequences of Consent Harvesting Scams 

The repercussions of consent-harvesting scams under the GDPR are considerable and varied, showcasing the strict enforcement measures of the regulation and the importance placed on safeguarding individuals’ data privacy rights. Organizations proven to be involved in deceptive consent practices may be subjected to significant financial penalties. The GDPR gives Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) the authority to levy fines up to €20 million or 4% of the company’s worldwide annual revenue, whichever amount is more significant. These sanctions are a powerful deterrent to prevent non-compliance and highlight the significance of following GDPR guidelines to obtain legitimate consent.

Along with monetary fines, organizations partaking in consent-harvesting scams could also be subject to different enforcement measures by DPAs. These actions may involve stopping data processing, deleting illegally obtained data, and implementing measures to prevent future breaches. For example, a company might be directed to update its consent processes to guarantee they are clear and transparent by GDPR. Enforcement measures target addressing the current violation and guaranteeing continued adherence to data protection regulations.

There are more consequences for consent-harvesting scams beyond just fines and enforcement actions. Organizations could face civil liabilities, such as legal action from impacted individuals. Individuals whose rights have been violated due to the illegal handling of data can pursue compensation for any harm caused. This legal option allows individuals to make organizations responsible and seek compensation for the improper use of their personal information. Class action lawsuits pose a potential risk when numerous affected individuals collectively sue an organization, possibly resulting in significant financial consequences and harm to reputation.

Consent-harvesting scams can result in serious legal repercussions. This is incredibly accurate if the data processing practices are discovered to include deceitful actions or severe carelessness in protecting personal data. Individuals within the organization can face substantial penalties, such as fines and imprisonment, due to criminal prosecution. The possibility of being held criminally responsible further discourages individuals from violating GDPR and treating personal data unethically.

Preventive Measures and Best Practices 

Organizations must implement preventive measures and follow best practices to comply with GDPR and safeguard against the legal ramifications of consent-harvesting scams. One of the critical measures organizations can adopt is to implement clear and easy-to-use consent mechanisms. This means creating consent requests that are straightforward, brief, and easily understandable, steering clear of complicated legal language, and making sure users fully understand what they are agreeing to. Organizations must offer detailed consent choices so users can decide on various types of data processing individually instead of combining them. This allows users

Routine audits and adherence inspections are also essential preventative measures. Organizations need to assess their data processing activities to comply with GDPR regularly. This involves ensuring consent is obtained correctly, maintaining records of consent, and allowing users to revoke their consent if desired easily. By performing these audits, companies can discover and fix non-compliance issues early on, thus lowering the chance of facing penalties and harm to their reputation.

It is essential to educate consumers and businesses on data protection rights and responsibilities to promote a culture of compliance. Awareness campaigns can inform consumers of their rights under GDPR, such as accessing, correcting, and erasing their personal information. Informed consumers are more prepared to identify and avoid deceptive agreement practices. Training programs for businesses can guarantee that employees grasp GDPR requirements and the significance of ethical data management. These programs can include guidelines on obtaining and handling consent, addressing data subject requests, and protecting personal data from unauthorized access and breaches.

The use of technology can also significantly help improve compliance with GDPR. Tools that assist in monitoring and managing consent can aid organizations in effectively tracking and documenting user consent, thus allowing them to show compliance if needed by regulatory authorities. Moreover, privacy-boosting technologies, like data anonymization and encryption, play a crucial role in safeguarding personal data against unauthorized access and minimizing the consequences of possible data breaches. Utilizing these technologies can showcase an organization’s dedication to protecting data and establishing user credibility.


The widespread problem of consent-harvesting scams highlights the importance of strictly following GDPR to safeguard people’s data privacy rights. These deceitful tactics erode user confidence and leave organizations vulnerable to substantial legal and financial dangers. By thoroughly examining GDPR consent regulations, the tactics of consent-harvesting scams, and the serious legal repercussions of not following the rules, it is evident that honesty, responsibility, and ethical data handling are essential. Organizations must focus on implementing precise consent mechanisms, performing routine compliance audits, educating stakeholders on data protection, and using technology to improve privacy. Furthermore, enhancing regulatory frameworks and encouraging international cooperation to combat these scams effectively is crucial. By following these preventative measures and optimal strategies, companies can protect user data, uphold legal responsibilities, and promote a more secure and reliable online environment.


  1. What is GDPR, and why is consent crucial under this regulation?

GDPR, or the General Data Protection Regulation, is a European Union law designed to protect individuals’ data. Consent is pivotal under GDPR as it ensures individuals control how their personal information is used and processed.

  1. What are consent harvesting scams under GDPR, and how do they work?

Consent harvesting scams involve deceptive tactics organizations use to obtain consent from users without their complete understanding or agreement. This includes pre-selected checkboxes, bundled consent, dark patterns in user interfaces, and unauthorized data sharing.

  1. What are the consequences of engaging in consent harvesting scams under GDPR?

Organizations found guilty of consent harvesting scams can face severe penalties. These may include fines up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover, orders to stop data processing, deleting unlawfully obtained data, and potential civil liabilities from affected individuals.

  1. How can organizations ensure compliance with GDPR consent requirements?

To comply with GDPR, organizations should implement clear and transparent consent mechanisms. This includes using plain language, offering specific consent choices, allowing easy withdrawal of consent, and regularly auditing data processing activities.

  1. What legal rights do individuals have under GDPR regarding consent?

Individuals under GDPR can give explicit and informed consent before processing their data. They can also withdraw consent at any time, request access to their data, rectify inaccuracies, and request deletion of their data under certain conditions.

  1. How can technology assist organizations in complying with GDPR consent rules?

Technology can aid compliance by providing tools for managing consent, monitoring data processing activities, anonymizing and encrypting personal data, and demonstrating compliance with regulatory authorities.

  1. What preventive measures should organizations adopt to avoid falling victim to consent harvesting scams?

Preventive measures include educating consumers about their data protection rights, training employees on GDPR requirements, conducting regular compliance audits, utilizing privacy-enhancing technologies, and fostering a culture of ethical data management.

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