US Justice Department Quizzes Ad Execs Over Chrome Changes

The US Department of Justice has reportedly been interviewing advertising industry executives about Google’s plan to certain types of cookies in its dominant Chrome browser, in a sign of its concern over the move.

Investigators’ questions involve how Chrome policies such as those relating to cookies affect the ad and news industries, Reuters reported.

Executives from about a dozen companies in a range of sectors have spoken with investigators, the report said, citing unnamed sources.

Google has planned the move for about a year, but has released more details in the past two months, leading to complaints by online ad competitors.

Privacy

The company says it plans to bar third-party cookies in Chrome, which has about a 60 percent market share, in order to improve user privacy.

But rivals say the company would still be able to track users using cookies, analytics tools and other means, increasing its sway in the online ad industry.

Google and Facebook together control about 54 percent of global online ad revenues.

The Justice Department has been investigating Google’s ad practices since 2019, but did not include ad industry concerns in a landmark antitrust lawsuit in October of last year, which currently focuses on Google’s search engine.

A separate antitrust lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Texas and other US states, which followed in December, does focus on ad industry concerns.

The Justice Department’s inquiry may not result legal action, but it could add any potential complaint to the Texas action.

‘Consolidation of power’

Alternatively, the DOJ could also amend its own lawsuit to reflect search concerns.

Texas last week amended its complaint to include the Chrome changes, which it called anti-competitive “because they raise barriers to entry and exclude competition”.

Google said it is working on a Privacy Sandbox feature that would allow advertisers to gather data without being able to identify or track individuals.

“As we’ve said, we will not replace third party cookies with alternative methods to track individual people across the web,” Google said in a statement.

Smaller adtech companies say such claims by Google and Apple are a smokescreen to conceal a power grab.

Chad Engelgau, chief executive of Acxiom, an ad data unit of Interpublic, told Reuters the claims represent a “weaponisation of privacy to justify business decisions that consolidate power to their business” at the expense of the broader marketplace.

France last week allowed Apple to implement user tracking controls, saying in this case the privacy value outweighed competition concerns.

The UK competition regulator, for its part, launched a probe into the the Chrome tracking changes in January.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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