Google Faces UK Investigation Over Chrome Cookie Change

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The UK’s CMA opens investigation of Google’s proposals to remove third-party cookies and other functions from Chrome browser

The UK competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), continues to have a busy week with the news that it is now investigating Google.

Earlier this week the CMA announced it was investigating Nvidia’s acquisition of ARM Holdings for $40 billion (£31.2 billion).

Now the CMA has announced it has “opened an investigation into Google’s proposals to remove third party cookies and other functionalities from its Chrome browser.”

CMA investigation

The UK regulator said that the investigation “will assess whether the proposals could cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its competitors.”

Apparently, the CMA has received complaints of anticompetitive behaviour and requests for the regulator to investigate “to ensure that Google develops its proposals in a way that does not distort competition.”

The CMA said that it had received complaints including from Marketers for an Open Web Limited, a group of newspaper publishers and technology companies, which allege that, through the proposals, Google is abusing its dominant position.

The regulator pointed out that third party cookies currently play a fundamental role online and in digital advertising. It says these cookies help businesses target advertising effectively and fund free online content for consumers, such as newspapers.

“But there have also been concerns about their legality and use from a privacy perspective, as they allow consumers’ behaviour to be tracked across the web in ways that many consumers may feel uncomfortable with and may find difficult to understand,” said the CMA.

Google had unveiled its proposals as far back as May 2019. Collectively, the changes are called the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project, and will disable third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine and replace them with a new set of tools for targeting advertising and other functionality that they say will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent.

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“The project is already under way, but Google’s final proposals have not yet been decided or implemented,” said the CMA. “In its recent market study into online platforms digital advertising, the CMA highlighted a number of concerns about their potential impact, including that they could undermine the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising, entrenching Google’s market power.”

Publisher impact

“As the CMA found in its recent market study, Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on publishers like newspapers, and the digital advertising market,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA.

“But there are also privacy concerns to consider, which is why we will continue to work with the ICO as we progress this investigation, while also engaging directly with Google and other market participants about our concerns,” said Coscelli.

The CMA said it would will continue to engage with Google and other market participants to ensure that both privacy and competition concerns can be addressed as the proposals are developed.

It should be noted that rival browsers such as Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari have already blocked third-party cookies.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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