Marketers for an Open Web ask UK competition watchdog to block launch of Google's anti-tracking Privacy Sandbox

Group claims adtech 'has nothing to do with privacy' but is rather an attempt 'to take control of the web'


Google's Privacy Sandbox took another knock today as Marketers for an Open Web (MOW) wrote to the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) requesting a block on the technology's launch.

The concept of "Privacy Sandbox" has been around for a while. The idea, when mooted in 2019, was an attempt by the Chocolate Factory to keep those advertising dollars rolling in while appeasing anyone getting a bit worried by how creepy targeted advertising was getting.

It was panned, but Google has continued to fiddle with the project and updated its proposals in January with mixed results.

MOW's concerns stem from worries that the technology will shunt tools used by advertisers from the open web into Google's Chrome "walled garden". The group cites claims by critics that "Google's new technology has nothing to do with privacy, and everything to do with moving the whole digital advertising industry off the open web."

Google is walking a tightrope with its Privacy Sandbox project. It plans to kill off support for third-party cookies in its browser, thus also killing off traditional methods for cross-site tracking. But not to worry – Google has a solution to steer customers away from the blocking technology turning up in competing browsers in favour of something that will both reassure worried users and keep the ad revenue coming in: "Privacy Sandbox."

However, by replacing some of the cookies beloved by marketers with the Privacy Sandbox, Google is inserting itself into a process that had historically been open and not under its control. "Google," claimed MOW, "is attempting to take control of the web through its dominant power to the detriment of wider society. These attempts to take control of the open web threaten digital media, online security and other digital businesses."

Google disagreed, telling us: "The ad-supported web is at risk if digital advertising practices don't evolve to reflect people's changing expectations around how data is collected and used. That's why Chrome introduced the Privacy Sandbox, an open initiative built in collaboration with the industry, to provide strong privacy for users while also supporting publishers."

The changes have yet to be made to Chrome and are still considered proposals, although the clock is most definitely ticking.

The ad slinger is keen to gather feedback on its idea.

A letter to the CMA requesting a block on the technology is possibly a little more feedback than it was hoping for. Particularly quite so soon after last month's US antitrust lawsuit launch.

As for the UK authority itself, a CMA spokesperson told The Register: "We can confirm we have received a complaint regarding Google raising certain concerns, some of which relate to those we identified in our online platforms and digital advertising market study. We take the matters raised in the complaint very seriously, and will assess them carefully with a view to deciding whether to open a formal investigation under the Competition Act. If the urgency of the concerns requires us to intervene swiftly, we will also assess whether to impose interim measures to order the suspension of any suspected anti-competitive conduct pending the outcome of a full investigation."

The CMA has a number of tools at its disposal and has already recommended the introduction of a regulatory regime to tackle the market power of Google and Facebook. It could also slap on interim measures during its investigation aimed at pausing Mountain View's privacy sandbox plans. ®


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