CMA probes into plan by Google to replace Chrome browser cookies

CMA probes into plan by Google to replace Chrome browser cookies
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The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is looking into a plan by Google to shift from its current web browser cookies to a new system.

According to the CMA, Google plans to replace its web browser cookies with a system that shares less data with advertisers. This could have a “significant impact” on news websites and the digital advertising market.

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Cookies and Google’s Chrome privacy plan

A web browser stores small files called cookies on a user’s device when they visit a webpage, which are then used to remember what items a person has added to their online basket and deliver personalized content.

These cookies can also be used to keep track of a person’s online activity, which can then be used to tailor targeted advertising. Cross-site or third-party cookies allow publishers to see a user’s web activity from one website to another.

Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firebox browsers have already blocked cross-site cookies by default but Google plans to one-up them by ending support for all cookies except first-party ones, which are used by sites to track activity within their own pages.

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Google plans to replace them with a new system that give advertisers more limited, anonymized information, such as the number of users visited a promoted product’s page after seeing a relevant ad, without giving information on individual users.

The plan has raised concerns that it may cause a profit decline among publishers if they cannot run personalized ads but Google insisted that digital advertising practices had to “evolve”.

The Google Chrome browser is currently installed on more than 70% of computers in the UK, according to one industry group criticizing the plan. This makes the change’s impact significant even if the other browsers decide not to follow suit.

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Opposition to the plan

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on publishers like newspapers, and the digital advertising market. But there are also privacy concerns to consider.”

Marketers for an Open Web (MOW), a coalition of small tech companies and publishers, pointed out that as much as two-thirds of its members’ revenues could be lost and that it places tremendous power in the hands of Google.

Last month MOW warned: “Google will effectively control how websites can monetize and operate their business. This means that any business that buys or sells advertising will be reliant on Google for a part of the process, whether they like it or not.”

“This will reduce the ability of independent players to compete with Google, strengthening its monopoly control of online commerce,” the group said.

US competition cases against Google

In the US, three antitrust cases have already been filed by the government against Google for allegedly violating competition law.

The October landmark case was filed in federal court by the US Department of Justice and 11 other states, claiming that Google violated competition law to maintain its monopoly over internet searches and online advertising.

In the case filing, it was highlighted that Google spends billions of dollars annually to ensure that its search engine is installed as the default on browsers and devices such as mobile phones.

A second lawsuit was filed in December by Texas and nine other states, which claims that Google abuses its ownership of digital ad marketplaces to unfairly enrich itself at the expense of fair competition.

A third one, similar to the landmark case, goes beyond the first one by adding that Google allegedly moved to block or downrank search results from specialized engines in the travel, home improvement and entertainment sectors.