The overhaul of Google’s Privacy Sandbox ad tracking removes a major regulatory hurdle


Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies and replace them with a bundle of new standards dubbed the “Privacy Sandbox” has just overcome a major regulatory hurdle. Britain’s competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has formally accepted Google’s commitments on how it will develop the new standards so that they don’t hurt competition or unduly benefit the search giant’s own advertising business, it said. the regulator announced today.

Google’s plans are still in flux, and it’s not yet clear exactly which technologies Privacy Sandbox will use to replace third-party cookies. Last month, Google abandoned a planned approach, FLoC, in favor of a new system called Topics API. Today’s approval is for Google’s approach, rather than a specific technology. The regulator notes that in the next phase, it will “monitor Google to ensure that the Privacy Sandbox is developed in a way that benefits consumers.”

Now that they’ve been formally accepted, Google’s commitments will become legally binding, and the search giant has said it will apply them globally. The commitments include developing the Privacy Sandbox proposals transparently and publishing test results. Google has also said it will not delete third-party cookies until the CMA is satisfied that the new alternatives do not raise competition concerns, and Google has also said it will not unfairly share data within its company to gain an advantage. achieve compared to competitors.

“The commitments we have received from Google will promote competition, protect the ability of online publishers to raise money through advertising, and protect user privacy,” said Andrea Coscelli, CEO of the CMA, in a statement. statement. “Although this is an important step, we have no illusions that our work is done. We will be watching Google closely as it continues to develop these proposals.”

The proposals have been controversial, with critics claiming they could cement Google’s dominance in the digital advertising market and make it harder for online publishers and other advertising companies to make money. As a result, in early 2021, the CMA said it would formally examine the proposals and later work directly with Google to design and develop them in a way that wouldn’t hurt competition.

The result of the partnership was a series of commitments from Google, which the CMA tentatively approved in late November. Google will appoint a CMA-approved monitoring trustee who will have access to Google’s systems to verify that it is not unfairly harming rivals. Last June, Google said it would not use first-party data collected from Chrome or Android to track users across the web after third-party cookies have been phased out. Financial times noted earlier.

Problems with Google’s approach have already led to it abandoning one of its ideas for replacing third-party cookies, FLoC or Federated Learning of Cohorts. In January, the company proposed an alternative called Topics API, which attempts to locate and store five of your interests in your browser. Critics argued that FLoC could have created privacy risks, and competing browsers, including Edge and Firefox, refused to use it.

Google’s Chrome won’t be the first browser to phase out third-party cookies (others like Safari and Firefox already block them by default), but Chrome’s dominant market share means it will likely have the biggest impact on the digital advertising market. The current plan is to block third-party cookies by default by the end of 2023.

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