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UK competition watchdog investigates Google's browser change proposals

LaToya Harding
·3-min read
Google biggest Internet search engine.
The probe will assess whether the move could cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its rivals. Photo: Getty Creative

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has opened an investigation into Google’s (GOOGL) proposals to remove third party cookies from its Chrome browser.

The probe will assess whether the move could cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its rivals.

Third party cookies currently play an essential role online and in digital advertising. They help businesses target advertising effectively and fund free online content for consumers, such as newspapers.

Google’s announced changes, known collectively as the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project, would disable these third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine, replacing them with a new set of tools for targeting advertising.

The search engine giant has said the browser changes will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent.

However, recently there have been concerns about their legality and privacy as they allow consumers’ behaviour to be tracked across the web.

The CMA has received complaints including from Marketers for an Open Web, a group of newspaper publishers and technology companies, which claim that Google is abusing its dominant position through the browser changes.

Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA said: “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.

“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.”

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The watchdog said it has not reached any conclusions at this stage as to whether or not competition law has been infringed. It 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.

Last month France’s data watchdog fined both Google and Amazon (AMZN) after accusing them of placing cookies on users’ computers without consent.

The French national commission on information and liberty (CNIL) revealed that Google faced a €100m (£91m, $121m) hit for three breaches of French data protection law, and Amazon a €35m (£31m, $42m) penalty for two breaches.

The CNIL said both companies had placed advertising cookies on users’ computers “without obtaining prior consent and without providing adequate information.”

Google makes “significant profits... deriving from the advertising income indirectly generated from data collected by the advertising cookies,” according to the watchdog. Meanwhile Amazon’s use of cookies makes possible personalised ads, enabling it to “significantly increase the visibility of its products in other websites,” it added.

The regulator said it had conducted several investigations into Amazon between last December and May, and an online investigation into Google in March.

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