GDPR : Article 26 - Joint Controllers

by Avinash V


The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), enacted by the European Union (EU) in 2018, introduced a comprehensive framework for data protection and privacy rights for individuals within the EU. Among its many provisions, the GDPR outlines the concept of joint controllers, a crucial aspect of data processing relationships that involves shared responsibility and accountability. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of joint controllers under the GDPR, including their roles, responsibilities, and the legal implications they entail.

GDPR : Article 26 - Joint Controllers

Defining Joint Controllers

Joint controllers are entities that jointly determine the purposes and means of processing personal data. They share the responsibility for complying with the GDPR's data protection principles and ensuring individuals' rights are upheld. The key factor distinguishing joint controllers from other data processing roles is their shared decision-making power over data processing activities.

Joint Controllership Arrangements

Joint controllership can arise in various scenarios, such as when two or more organizations collaboratively collect and process personal data for a common purpose. This could involve sharing customer data for marketing purposes, conducting research projects, or providing joint services that involve data processing. The GDPR applies joint controllership regardless of formal contractual arrangements between the parties.

Roles and Responsibilities

Joint controllers have specific obligations outlined in the GDPR:

  • Transparency: Joint controllers must inform individuals about their respective roles and how they will process personal data. This information should be communicated clearly and comprehensively to ensure transparency.
  • Data Protection Agreements: Joint controllers must establish a written agreement specifying their roles and responsibilities. This agreement should outline how they will fulfill GDPR requirements, allocate responsibilities, and address data subjects' rights.
  • Data Subjects' Rights: Both joint controllers are responsible for facilitating individuals' rights, such as the right to access, rectify, erase, and object to the processing of their personal data. They must collaborate to ensure timely and accurate responses to data subjects' requests.
  • Lawfulness and Fairness: Joint controllers must ensure that the processing of personal data is lawful and fair, adhering to the principles of purpose limitation, data minimization, and accuracy.
  • Data Breaches: In case of a data breach, joint controllers must promptly inform the relevant supervisory authority and, where necessary, affected data subjects. They must also cooperate in investigating and mitigating the breach.
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Allocation of Responsibilities

Joint controllers must determine their respective roles in the data processing activities. This involves assigning responsibilities for complying with specific GDPR requirements, such as appointing a lead contact point for data subjects or coordinating with supervisory authorities.

Legal Basis for Joint Controllership

Joint controllers must establish a legal basis for their shared processing activities. This typically involves identifying a legitimate interest, contractual necessity, legal obligation, or obtaining explicit consent from data subjects. The legal basis should be documented and communicated transparently.

Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs)

Joint controllers may be required to conduct DPIAs when their processing activities are likely to result in high risks to individuals' rights and freedoms. Collaborating on DPIAs ensures a comprehensive assessment of potential risks and effective implementation of necessary safeguards.

Challenges and Considerations

While joint controllership offers benefits such as shared resources and expertise, it also presents challenges:

  • Liability: Joint controllers are jointly and severally liable for GDPR compliance. If one controller fails to fulfill obligations, the other may be held accountable.
  • Disputes and Disagreements: Differences in interpretation or disagreements between joint controllers can complicate decision-making and lead to conflicts over responsibilities.
  • Data Subjects' Rights: Ensuring efficient responses to data subjects' rights requests requires clear coordination and communication between joint controllers.

International Transfer of Data

Joint controllers involved in cross-border data transfers must ensure compliance with GDPR's rules on international data transfers. Adequate safeguards, such as Standard Contractual Clauses, must be in place.

Evolving Guidance and Case Law

Over time, regulatory authorities and courts may provide additional guidance and interpretations on joint controllership. Landmark cases and decisions could shape the expectations and responsibilities of joint controllers. Staying updated on evolving legal developments is imperative to ensure ongoing compliance and effective data protection practices.

Education and Training

Educating employees and stakeholders about the nuances of joint controllership is vital for its successful implementation. Training programs that emphasize data protection principles, communication protocols, and conflict resolution can foster a culture of collaboration and responsibility.

Continuous Improvement and Adaptation

In the ever-changing landscape of data privacy, joint controllers must prioritize continuous improvement and adaptation. Regular assessments of data processing activities, periodic reviews of joint controllership agreements, and proactive identification of potential risks can help ensure that the partnership remains compliant, transparent, and aligned with individuals' evolving expectations.


Joint controllers under the GDPR represent a collaborative approach to data processing, emphasizing shared responsibility and accountability. Clear delineation of roles, transparent communication, and robust agreements are essential for successful joint controllership arrangements. While challenges may arise, effective cooperation between joint controllers can ensure the protection of individuals' data rights and privacy in an increasingly data-driven world.


GDPR Implementation Toolkit