UK competition bods to keep tabs on Google, ensure 'Privacy Sandbox' doesn't distort competition

CMA claims to have taken 'oversight role' over removal of third-party cookies


The UK's competition regulator intends to keep a weather eye on Google as it works to address concerns around its proposals to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome web browser.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it will take up a role in the design and development of Google's "Privacy Sandbox" proposals to ensure they do not distort competition.

While the commitments aim to address concerns raised in Blighty, they are likely to have implications for Google that stretch across the globe.

In January, the CMA opened a case file amid concerns that Google's Privacy Sandbox project – if left unchecked – would disable third-party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engines.

In an upbeat statement at the time, the internet giant told El Reg: "Creating a more private web, while also enabling the publishers and advertisers who support the free and open internet, requires the industry to make major changes to the way digital advertising works.

"The Privacy Sandbox has been an open initiative since the beginning and we welcome the CMA's involvement as we work to develop new proposals to underpin a healthy, ad-supported web without third-party cookies."

Fast-forward six months and in a statement issued today, the CMA said it had looked into the matter and, as part of its findings, plans to have "key oversight role over Google's planned removal of third-party cookies."

The action is the result of enforcement action that the CMA launched against Google in January 2021, when a number of businesses raised concerns about the company's plans to phase out third-party cookies and other functionalities in its Chrome browser.

While the move addresses user privacy regulations and is a means of taking on rivals who use improved privacy as a selling point, critics also fear Alphabet's moves will benefit itself the most, meaning advertising spending will become even more concentrated on Google, thus harming consumers.

Some of the sandbox proposals are particularly divisive, including first-party sets – which allow multiple domains to declare themselves to be one domain for so they can exchange data amongst themselves and still say it's been kept "private"- one such set, for example, could be youtube.com, google.com, and google.co.uk. The W3C Technical Architecture Group has declared the proposal to be "harmful to the web in its current form."

Andrea Coscelli, the CMA's chief exec, said: "The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach.

"That's why the CMA is taking a leading role in setting out how we can work with the most powerful tech firms to shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers.

"If accepted, the commitments we have obtained from Google become legally binding, promoting competition in digital markets, helping to protect the ability of online publishers to raise money through advertising and safeguarding users' privacy."

Competition regulators have been flexing their muscles recently in a bid to clamp down on alleged abuses in the tech space.

Earlier this week, Google said it is to change the way it operates its advertising business after the ad slinger was slapped with a €220m (£189m) fine by French competition regulators for abusing its dominant position.

Elsewhere, Facebook is facing a twin investigation by UK and EU officials into allegations that it breached competition rules by using data gathered from advertisers on its social media network to compete with rivals. ®


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