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Competition authority to ensure Google’s changes to Chrome ads don’t hurt rivals

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said it has received assurances from Google that its new privacy sandbox proposals will not favor its internal advertising platform over competing companies.

Google’s plan is to ditch third-party cookies in its Chrome web browser in favor of its own “privacy sandbox”. Traditional third-party cookies allow advertisers to track individuals on the websites they visit to show them personalized ads outside of the Google ecosystem.

The new system divides users into cohorts, and instead of sending a person’s browsing history to a central location, their own computer will find out what they like and assign it to a group of similar interests.

Online ads will still be personalized under the system, but Google claims it will provide users with more privacy.

With Chrome holding roughly 65 percent of the global browser market, the CMA has expressed concern that the sandbox will create a sort of walled garden that “will cause ad spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its competitors”.

Now it has said it will play a role in the design and development of the sandbox proposals to ensure they don’t distort competition. It is also launching a consultation on whether or not to accept Google’s commitments, which, if accepted, would be legally binding.

The commitments include a mandate for greater transparency from Google about how and when the proposals will be implemented, significant limits on the use and combination of individual user data, and a promise that it will not discriminate against its rivals in favor of its own advertising.

The pledge offer is the result of enforcement actions launched by the CMA against Google in January 2021, when a number of companies raised concerns about the company’s plans to phase out third-party cookies and other functionalities in the Chrome browser.

The CMA was concerned that Google’s alternatives could be developed and implemented in a way that would hinder competition in the digital advertising markets, without regulatory oversight and control. Andrea Coscelli, the CEO of the CMA, said:

“The rise of tech giants like Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require new approaches.

“That’s why the CMA plays a leading role in shaping how we can work together with the most powerful tech companies to shape their behavior and protect competition to the benefit of consumers.

“If we are accepted, the commitments we have obtained from Google will become legally binding, promoting competition in digital markets, ability of online publishers to raise money through advertising and the privacy of users is protected.

” The consultation on the CMA’s proposals will close on 8 July 2021, after which a final decision will be made on whether or not accepting the pledges offered.

“Today we offer a series of pledges – the result of many ur and lengthy discussions with the CMA and more generally with the wider web community — about how we will design and implement the Privacy Sandbox proposals and handle user data in Google’s systems in the years ahead,” said Oliver Bethell, Google’s legal director , in a blog post.