Google commits to UK competition watchdog oversight on privacy changes

Search engine giant Google has offered new proposals on the way it uses customer data following an intervention by the competition watchdog.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had laid out a series of commitments from Google over its Privacy Sandbox plans that risked squeezing competition by removing third-party cookies and other functionalities from its Chrome browser.

Investigators raised concerns that plans by Google to hide data – in the name of privacy – would impede competition in digital advertising markets.

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This could have cause advertising spending to become even more concentrated on Google, harming consumers who ultimately pay for the cost of advertising, the CMA said.

Google has outlined new privacy proposals. Picture: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty ImagesGoogle has outlined new privacy proposals. Picture: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images
Google has outlined new privacy proposals. Picture: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images

It may undermine the ability of online publishers such as newspapers to generate revenue and continue to produce valuable content in the future, reducing choice for consumers, the watchdog added.

As a result of the changes proposed by Google, the regulator said privacy could improve without adversely affecting users.

The CMA launched its investigation in June and heard from more than 40 third parties, who raised concerns that competition would be hit.

Google has now committed to greater transparency and engagement, alongside committing to no remove certain functionality before third-party cookies.

The tech giant said it would ensure the CMA continued to play a role in monitoring the business and be mentioned in future key public announcements.

Staff would be told they must not make claims to customers which contradict the commitments and must report regularly on how they are taking third-party views into account.

Google has already announced a two-year delay on phasing out the third-party cookies for ad tracking on its browser until 2023 whilst it works with industry to ensure it is not given an unfair advantage.

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Internal limits on the data that Google can use will be clarified and greater certainty to third parties developing alternative technologies will be given, the CMA said.

Google has also committed to improving reporting and compliance, including by appointing a CMA-approved monitoring trustee.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “We have always been clear that Google’s efforts to protect user’s privacy cannot come at the cost of reduced competition.

“That’s why we have worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the CMA’s international counterparts and parties across this sector throughout this process to secure an outcome that works for everyone.

“We welcome Google’s co-operation and are grateful to all the interested parties who engaged with us during the consultation.

“If accepted, the commitments we have obtained from Google become legally binding, promoting competition in digital markets, helping to protect the ability of online publishers to raise money through advertising and safeguarding users’ privacy.”

The CMA has opened another consultation on the latest plans, with interested parties invited to submit their views up until December 17.

If the commitments are formally agreed, this would end the CMA’s investigation and the start of its oversight role at Google. The company has also committed to rolling the plans out globally if accepted.

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