Google clears major regulatory hurdle on Privacy Sandbox in UK

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Google on Friday cleared a major regulatory hurdle as the UK’s competition regulator formally accepted the tech giant’s Privacy Sandbox commitments so that these don’t harm competition or unfairly benefit the search giant’s own advertising business.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK said it is working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to oversee the development of the proposals, so that they protect privacy without unduly restricting competition and harming consumers.

The CMA said it accepted a revised offer from Google of commitments relating to its proposed removal of third-party cookies from the Chrome browser (known as the Privacy Sandbox proposals).

“The commitments we have obtained from Google will promote competition, help to protect the ability of online publishers to raise money through advertising, and safeguard user’s privacy,” said Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s Chief Executive.

“While this is an important step, we are under no illusions that our work is done. We now move into a new phase where we will keep a close eye on Google as it continues to develop these proposals.”

Google said that it is pleased that the CMA has accepted these commitments, which now go into immediate effect.

“We will apply the commitments globally because we believe that they provide a roadmap for how to address both privacy and competition concerns in this evolving sector,” it said.

The CMA investigation was launched in January 2021 over concerns that the proposals would cause online advertising spending to become even more concentrated on Google, weakening competition and so harming consumers who ultimately pay for the cost of online advertising.

It was also concerned that the proposals could undermine the ability of online publishers, such as newspapers, to generate revenue and continue to produce valuable content in the future – reducing the public’s choice of news sources.

Late last month, Google abandoned FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), its earlier idea to replace tracking third-party cookies on Chrome, and has instead announced Topics, a new Privacy Sandbox proposal for interest-based advertising.

“Topics was informed by our learning and widespread community feedback from our earlier FLoC trials, and replaces our FLoC proposal,” said Vinay Goel, Product Director, Privacy Sandbox, Chrome.

The CMA said that Google will now engage in a more transparent process than initially proposed, including engagement with third parties and publishing test results, with the option for the CMA to require Google to address issues raised by the CMA or third parties.

“Google will not remove third-party cookies until the CMA is satisfied that its competition concerns have been addressed.”

A monitoring trustee will be appointed to work alongside the CMA to ensure the commitments are monitored effectively and Google complies with its obligations.

Google’s aim with the Privacy Sandbox is to improve web privacy for people around the world, while also giving publishers, creators and other developers the tools they need to build thriving businesses.

This includes building new digital advertising tools, in collaboration with the wider industry, to replace third-party cookies with alternatives that better protect consumer privacy and preserve peoples’ access to free content online.

Google said it will work with the CMA to resolve concerns without delay and consult and update the CMA and the ICO on an ongoing basis.

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