Google agrees to monitoring by UK regulator as it replaces cookies with new data tracker

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Cookies removal: Google has agreed to be scrutinised by the CMA

The tech firm has been under investigation by the UK regulator over competition concerns.

Google’s replacement mechanism for third-party cookies is set to be monitored by the UK competition watchdog under a series of new pledges made by the tech giant.

The search-engine company also told the Competition and Markets Authority it will allow the regulator to be involved in testing its new mechanism.

Meanwhile, third parties – such as publishers, advertisers and ad tech providers – will be given a chance to offer their views on the testing and Google will regularly update the CMA on how those views have been considered. 

The tech firm also pledged to clarify internal limits on the data that Google is allowed to use for targeting and measuring digital advertising.

Google has been under investigation by the CMA since the start of the year over fears that its new “Privacy Sandbox” proposals could reduce competition in digital advertising. 

The proposals will replace third-party tracking cookies – which Google aims to remove from its Chrome web browser by the end of 2023 – but are aimed at ensuring advertisers can still aggregate data about attribution and conversions.

The CMA is worried the new mechanism could mean adpsend becomes more concentrated on Google.

In response to the CMA’s fears, Google issued a list of commitments in May, but a consultation revealed stakeholders wanted the tech firm to go further in its promise to be more transparent and agreement to be monitored. 

On 19 November Google offered a set of modified pledges, covering eight areas of concern, which the CMA has now made public. This includes the appointment of a "monitoring trustee", who would be approved by the CMA to monitor Google's compliance with its pledges.

The CMA said its “provisional view” is that the new commitments would “address the competition concerns that the CMA has identified” in relation to the Privacy Sandbox proposals and provide a “robust basis” for the CMA, Information Commissioner’s Office and third parties to influence their future development.

The regulator will consult on the new commitments until 5pm on 17 December 2021.

If the commitments are accepted, the CMA will close its investigation and begin the next phase of its oversight work.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “We have always been clear that Google’s efforts to protect user’s privacy cannot come at the cost of reduced competition.

“That’s why we have worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the CMA’s international counterparts and parties across this sector throughout this process to secure an outcome that works for everyone.”

She 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."

In a joint blogpost, Google’s EMEA legal director, William Malcolm, and fellow legal director Oliver Bethell, said: “We are determined to ensure that the Privacy Sandbox is developed in a way that works for the entire ecosystem and, as part of this process, we have now offered revised commitments.”

They added: “These revisions underline our commitment to ensuring that the changes we make in Chrome will apply in the same way to Google’s adtech products as to any third party, and that the Privacy Sandbox APIs will be designed, developed and implemented with regulatory oversight and input from the CMA and the ICO.”

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