CMA secures commitments from Google on future of cookies

by Joseph K. Clark

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has secured several commitments from Google on designing and developing its Privacy Sandbox proposals to replace third-party cookies in the Chrome web browser and will now consult with other stakeholders on whether or not to accept them. This follows an enforcement action launched against Google at the beginning of 2021 after businesses. Other organizations complained that Privacy Sandbox – the proposed replacement for third-party cookies due to be phased out of its Chrome browser later in the year – could be developed and implemented in ways that impede competition in digital advertising markets.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities worldwide with new challenges that require a new approach,” said CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli. Among the concerns were that the proposals could cause advertising spending to become even more concentrated with Google, hurting consumers and undermining the ability of organizations such as online publishers to generate income. “That’s why the CMA is taking a leading role in setting out how we can work with the most influential tech firms to shape their behavior and protect competition to benefit consumers.

“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 commitments secured by the CMA – which has been working closely alongside the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) throughout – are as follows:


  • That Google will develop and implement the Privacy Sandbox proposals in a way that avoids distortion to competition and the imposition of unfair terms on Chrome users, and the CMA and ICO will both be involved in the development of proposals to ensure this objective is met;
  • That Google will offer increased transparency on how and when the Privacy Sandbox proposals will move forward and on what basis they will be assessed, including a commitment to publish the results of tests of how effective alternative technologies may be;
  • Google will accept “substantial” limits on how it uses and combines individual user data for digital advertising once third-party cookies are removed from Chrome;
  • When designing or implementing Privacy Sandbox, Toggle won’t discriminate against rivals in favor of its advertising and adtech businesses.
  • And that Google will accept a standstill period of at least 60 days before it proceeds to remove third-party cookies from Chrome, allowing the CMA to reopen investigations or impose interim measures to protect competition if needed.

In its consultation, the CMA said it was particularly interested in hearing any opinions on whether or not Google’s proposed commitments adequately address its concerns about unequal access to user-tracking functionality, self-preferencing Google’s adtech operations, and its owned and operated ad inventory, and the potential imposition of unfair terms on Chrome users.

The CMA’s ultimate decision is likely to significantly impact the implementation of Google’s Privacy Sandbox oglobally According to statistics supplied by AtlasVPN, correct to 26 May 2021, Chrome has approximately 3.26 billion internet users, or 41% of the worldwide population, making it the most popular web browser on the planet by a country mile; its closest competitor, Apple’s Safari, can muster only 944.6 million users; followed by Firefox with 181.4 million; and Microsoft Edge with 171.3 million.

Farhad Divecha, managing director and founder of AccuraCast, a digital marketing agency, said: “The call from the CMA is good news for advertisers because Google has been very vague with advertisers about how these cookie changes will affect reporting, targeting, and optimization within the Google Ads and DV 360 platforms.

“All [Google’s] press around the matter focuses on its privacy spiel, which is well and good, but then it has Google Tag Manager server-side, which could potentially bypass all the restrictions imposed by cookie blockers; it has FLoC, which seems like this nebulous concept of a remarketing/lookalike audience to most advertisers and has been criticized by smaller publishers; and it has Project Turtledove.

“But what Google hasn’t yet done is tell advertisers clearly what they need to do to prepare for a cookieless future,” said Divecha. “This is especially stark in contrast to Facebook, which set up Conversions API, has extensive documentation to prepare advertisers for IDFA and cookie changes, and has even invested a lot of money to help ensure its advertisers can minimize the impact of these changes.” Google has been approached for comment, but hhasnot replied at the time of publication.

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