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U.K. competition regulator weighs in on Google’s browser cookie plan

U.K. competition regulator weighs in on Google's browser cookie plan

June 14, 2021: -Britain’s competition regulator will have a say in the plan of Google to remove third-party browser cookies that track people online.

On Friday, the Competition and Markets Authority said it had secured commitments from Google to address concerns about the proposal. The CMA is worried that the plan will harm newspapers and other businesses that rely on personalized ads.

Web cookies are small pieces of code that websites deliver to a browser of the visitor. They can be used to track online activity, like items added to a shopping basket. In addition, advertisers often add third-party cookies to serve people with ads that personalized.

Google is planning to scrap third-party cookies on its Chrome browser and replace them with an alternative. The company launched an initiative known as “Privacy Sandbox” last year to address privacy concerns about cookies. One of the proposals Google is confident about to called “Federated Learning of Cohorts.”

The CMA launched a formal probe into the changes in the month of January.

Google is committed to involving the CMA and the Information Commissioner’s Office, the U.K.’s privacy watchdog, to develop its Privacy Sandbox proposals. The company promised to publicly disclose the results of the tests of the effectiveness of alternatives. It said it wouldn’t give preferential treatment to advertising products or sites of Google.

“If accepted, the commitments we have obtained from Google become binding legally, promoting competition in digital markets, which helps to protect the ability of online publishers to increase money through advertising and safeguarding users’ privacy,” CMA Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli said in the statement.

The CMA said that it would consult with “interested third parties” before deciding if they should accept commitments of Googles. If received, the watchdog would drop its enforcement case and engage with Google on the details of the proposals.

“We appreciate the thoughtful approach of CMA throughout the review and their engagement with the difficult trade-offs that this process inevitably involves,” Google legal director Oliver Bethell said in the post.

“We also welcome feedback from the public consultation and will continue to engage with the CMA and with the industry on this important topic,” Bethell further said.

 “We understand that our plans will be scrutinized, so we will also continue to engage with other regulators, industry partners, and privacy experts as well,” Bethell added.

The move is the recent sign of the CMA’s growing role in scrutinizing major U.S. tech firms facing antitrust probes worldwide after Brexit. The government has tasked the watchdog with setting up a new Digital Markets Unit to police competition in the internet market in the U.K.

In the previous week, the U.K. and European Union launched two separate probes into Facebook on that day itself. Apple also faces antitrust investigations in Britain and Europe.

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