CMA secures Google commitments over third-party cookies

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said that, following an investigation, it has secured commitments from Google to address concerns about its proposal to remove third-party cookies on Chrome.

The move comes after enforcement action launched by the CMA 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 there have been privacy concerns about their use, these cookies are used by digital advertisers to personalise and target advertisements more effectively, providing an income stream for free online content such as newspapers.

The UK competition watchdog said it was concerned that, without regulatory oversight and scrutiny, Google’s alternatives could be developed and implemented in ways that “impede competition in digital advertising markets.”

This, the authority said, would cause advertising spending to become even more concentrated on the tech giant.

The CMA believes that this would undermine the ability of online publishers, like newspapers, to generate revenue and continue to produce valuable content.

Google has committed to develop and implement its proposals in a way that “avoids distortions to competition” and the imposition of unfair terms on Chrome users. This includes involving the CMA and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the development of its proposals.

The tech giant has also promised “increased transparency” on how and when the proposals will be taken forward and on what basis they will be assessed, including the public disclosure of the results of tests of the effectiveness of alternative technologies.

Google has said that it will put substantial limits on how it uses and combines individual user data for the purposes of digital advertising after the removal of third-party cookies.

As well as this, Google has made a commitment to “not discriminate against its rivals” in favour of its own advertising and ad-tech businesses when designing or operating the alternatives to third-party cookies.

The final pledge from the multinational is a standstill period of at least 60 days before the company proceeds with the removal of third-party cookies, giving the CMA the opportunity, if any outstanding concerns cannot be resolved, “to reopen its investigation and impose any interim measures necessary to avoid harm to competition.”

The 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.

The watchdog is currently consulting on Google’s commitments.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” said Andrea Coscelli, CMA chief executive. “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.”

Coscelli added: “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.”

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