Google has offered the UK government full oversight of its plan to abandon third-party cookies in Chrome, which sent the ad industry into a tailspin

Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai’s Google has offered the CMA oversight of its plans to drop the use of third-party cookies.

  • Google has offered UK officials full oversight of its plans to ditch third-party cookies in Chrome.
  • The tech giant’s move to drop third-party cookies sent the ad industry into a tailspin last year.
  • The UK’s CMA could soon have the power to block Chrome changes for up to 60 days.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Google has offered UK officials full oversight of its plans to abandon the use of third-party cookies within its Chrome browser, as competition authorities around the world consider antitrust action against the move.

The tech giant’s plans to do away with third-party cookies, which help businesses target individual users, sent the advertising industry into a tailspin when it was first announced in January 2020 – no surprise, given Chrome is thought to make up almost two-thirds of web-browsing activity.

Third-party cookies allow advertisers to follow users around the internet, and target them with personalized ads. Without that option in Chrome, Google may be in a position to exercise greater control over the advertising market, offering ad products based around its first-party data collected from search, Gmail, YouTube, and app downloads, expected to come in the form of its still-in-development “Privacy Sandbox”. Few of Google’s peers and rivals in advertising can hope to match its data trove.

The plan has run into resistance from the ad industry, with Marketers for an Open Web, a consortium representing around 20 marketing firms, filing a complaint with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), demanding “long-term competitive remedies to mitigate” its dominance. The watchdog announced an investigation into the move shortly thereafter.

On Friday morning, the CMA announced it had “secured commitments from Google to address concerns” around its plans to do away with third-party cookies in Chrome, including: Increased transparency, substantial limits on how Google will use Chrome data for advertising, and agreeing not to discriminate against rivals in favor of its own advertising products.

Most significantly, Google offered the CMA a 60-day “standstill period” before it introduces any changes, during which the watchdog retains the option of reopening its investigation, should any issues arise.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive said.

“That’s why the CMA is taking a leading role in setting out how we can work with the most powerful tech firms to shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers.”

James Rosewell, the Marketers for an Open Web founder , said the CMA’s intervention represented an opportunity for a “genuine privacy change”, rather than the changes that Google had “tried to shoehorn in through the backdoor.”

“I hope Google recognizes that it failed to engage with the industry: it lectured, rather than debated,” he told Insider. “Luckily, this provides them with an opportunity to come back to the table and think more carefully about changes moving forward.”

In a statement, Google legal director Oliver Bethell said the company had welcomed the CMA’s investigation into the company’s sandbox. Bethell said the tech giant had offered a set of commitments that were the result of “many hours of discussions with the CMA and more generally with the broader web community” around how the sandbox will be designed.

“The CMA is now asking others in the industry for feedback on these commitments as part of a public consultation, with a view to making them legally binding,” he said.

“If the CMA accepts these commitments, we will apply them globally.”

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