UK competition regulator has a say in Google’s plan to remove cookies

LONDON – Britain’s competition regulator will have a say in Google’s plan to remove cookies from third-party browsers that track people online.

The Competition and Markets Authority said on Friday it had obtained commitments from Google to address concerns about the proposal. The CMA is concerned that the plans will hurt newspapers and other businesses that rely on personalized ads.

Web cookies are small pieces of code that websites send to a visitor’s browser. They can be used to track online activity, such as items that are added to a shopping cart. Advertisers often add third-party cookies to deliver personalized ads to people.

Google plans to remove third-party cookies in its Chrome browser and replace them with an alternative. The company launched an initiative called the “Privacy Sandbox” last year, in an attempt to address privacy issues with cookies. One of the proposals that Google relies on is called “Cohort Federated Learning.” The CMA launched a formal investigation into the changes in January.

Google has committed to involving the CMA and the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s privacy watchdog, in developing its Privacy Sandbox proposals. The company promised to publicly disclose the results of any tests of the effectiveness of the alternatives and said it would not give preferential treatment to Google products or advertising sites.

“If accepted, the commitments we have obtained from Google become legally binding, which promotes competition in digital markets, helps protect the ability of online publishers to raise money through advertising, and safeguards the privacy of users, ”Andrea Coscelli, CEO of CMA, said in a statement.

The CMA said it would consult with “interested third parties” before deciding whether to accept Google’s commitments. If accepted, the watchdog would drop its enforcement case and contact Google about the details of its proposals.

“We appreciate the CMA’s thoughtful approach throughout the review and its commitment to the difficult trade-offs that this process inevitably entails,” Oliver Bethell, Google’s chief legal officer, said in a blog post.

“We also welcome comments from the public consultation and will continue to collaborate with the CMA and industry on this important issue,” added Bethell. “We understand that our plans will be vetted, so we will also continue to interact with other regulators, industry partners and privacy experts.”

The move is the latest sign of the CMA’s growing role in scrutinizing major US tech companies, facing antitrust investigations around the world, after Brexit. The government has tasked the watchdog with creating a new Digital Markets Unit to monitor competition in the UK digital market.

Last week, the UK and the European Union launched two separate competition polls on Facebook on the same day. Meanwhile, Apple is also facing antitrust investigations in both Britain and Europe.

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