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4 Min. Read

Data Controller Vs Data Processor: What’s the Difference?

Data Controller Vs Data Processor: What's the Difference?

Data protection is important to everyone, especially with the majority of activity being done online. Many businesses are online only, meaning that data protection is necessary. The General Data Protection Regulation handles making sure that companies are compliant. If you’re trying to make sure that your company is compliant, you may come across terms you’re unfamiliar with. A couple of those may be “data controller” and “data processor.” If you need to know the difference between the two, keep reading!

Here’s What We’ll Cover:

What Is the GDPR?

What Is a Data Controller?

What is a Data Processor?

Can a Person be a Controller and a Processor?

Key Takeaways

What Is the GDPR?

The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation. They are the public authority in charge of keeping businesses compliant with their data protection. As this supervisory authority, they have set specific responsibilities for controllers and processors. The GDPR has established privacy laws and the protection law associated with data. Both have to meet the specifications of the supervisory authority to be compliant. Otherwise, they may come under fire from legal authority.

What Is a Data Controller?

A data controller is an entity that has the most responsibility according to the GDPR. They have to follow basic privacy guidelines and security measures to keep data safe. They are required to adhere to controlling data on a lawful basis under the GDPR. They dictate how and why data is used by the organization they work for.

Data controllers have the ability to process data collected. They are able to undergo their own processing activities when doing so. That being said, some data requires a controller and processor to be processed correctly. Hence the reason that data processors exist. When a data processor is used, however, the control stays with the controller. They specify how the data processor is allowed to use the data, and are solely responsible for its protection.

The Responsibilities of a Data Controller

A GDPR data controller has the following responsibilities associated with their company’s data:

  • Collect personal information of customers, site visitors, and specified targets
  • Deciding what data should be collected
  • Determining how to modify data collected
  • Using the data, and for what purposes
  • Knowing what data to keep, what to share, and who to share it with
  • Determining guidelines on how long to keep the data

What is a Data Processor?

Data processors are entities that process data for data controllers. They don’t own any of the data or control it. They are the party responsible for processing data, and that’s it. They aren’t able to modify the data, or choose how it should be used. They are required to follow the instructions provided by the data controller. Most often, data processors are third-party providers. They are simply a service provider that assists the controller that hires them.

The Responsibilities of a Data Processor

Even though the scope of their job is more limited, data processors still have responsibilities that must be upheld. These responsibilities are listed below:

  • Designing, creating, and implementing processes or systems that let the controller collect data
  • Using tools and strategies to collect personal data
  • Implementing security features that don’t compromise protection of data
  • Transferring data to and from the data controller on a need-be basis

Can a Person be a Controller and a Processor?

Sometimes the areas of responsibility in both these roles overlap. As such, data controllers can be data processors. It’s unlikely that a processor is also a controller, though. Should a role be specified as being a data controller, they can also take on processing duties. If a role is specified as a data processor, they cannot then choose how to control the data they work with.

What is a Data Protection Officer?

Another role that’s necessary according to the GDPR is the data protection officer, or DPO. These individuals are responsible for a number of things in the companies they work for. For the most part, however, they are in charge of education related to data security. They ensure that the workforce is educated on compliance requirements. They also conduct internal compliance audits to make sure that all regulations are being followed. A DPO is one of the best tools a company can have when it comes to adhering to GDPR requirements. Every company that uses consumer data has compliance obligations, the DPO helps them be met.

Key Takeaways

Data protection and security are both important obligations for a business to uphold. When customers provide data to them, they trust that it will be used safely and responsibly. By adhering to GDPR requirements, controllers and processors can help keep data safe. If you found this article to be helpful, be sure to check out the others available on our resource hub!


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