CMA to work with Google on removing third-party browser cookies and other functionalities from Chrome
The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced on Friday that it will be working with Google on the company's plan to remove third-party browser cookies and other functionalities from its Chrome browser.
The move comes after the search giant announced a set of proposals last week to end an antitrust investigation launched by the CMA earlier this year.
In a blog post, Oliver Bethell, legal director at Google, said that when the CMA had launched the investigation into Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative, the company "welcomed the opportunity to engage with a regulator with the mandate to promote competition for the benefit of consumers."
"This process has also recognised the importance of reconciling privacy and competition concerns," Bethell noted.
He described the review as "first-of-its-kind" involving converging regulatory authorities and expertise, in which the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) will provide direct input to the CMA on Google's approach.
Google unveiled its Privacy Sandbox plan in August 2019, claiming that it would help make web surfing more private, while still enabling digital advertising firms to target web users.
As part of the new scheme, Google proposes storing and processing all user data in the web browser, and using machine learning algorithms to assess users' interests to target them with relevant ads. This initiative includes called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which was announced in March.
Google says the data will be presented to advertisers in the form of a cryptographic token that will obfuscate identifying information. This will enable advertisers to confidently target their ads without directly identifying individuals.
However, critics warn that the scheme would remove advertising, login, and many other features from the open web and place them under the control of Google.
In November last year, an alliance of technology and publishing companies in the UK filed a complaint with the CMA, urging the regulator to delay the rollout of Google's Privacy Sandbox technology. Marketers for an Open Web (MOW), a group of publishers, marketers and supply chain vendors, said that delaying Privacy Sandbox would give regulators more time to formulate "long term competitive remedies to mitigate [Google's dominance]".
Concerns have also been raised about whether Google proposals are in line with Europe's GDPR data protection regulation.
In its latest blog post, Google has announced a series of commitments about how it plans to develop and roll out the changes.
The company says that it will develop the plans transparently and implement them in a way not to give itself an unfair advantage. It has also pledged not to combine users' Chrome browsing histories or Google Analytics with its ad products.
The CMA says these commitments appear to address its concerns, but it is also opening up a public consultation to help it decide whether to accept them.
The regular says it is particularly interested to hear any views on whether the proposed commitments are sufficient to address concerns regarding:
- unequal access to the functionality associated with user tracking
- self-preferencing Google's own ad tech providers and owned and operated ad inventory
- imposition of unfair terms on Chrome's web users
People wishing to comment on Google's proposed commitments need to submit written representations by 8 July 2021.
Google says it will apply the proposed commitments globally if they are accepted by the CMA.