Beau Jackson
Feb 5, 2024

UK competition regulator: 'Google cannot proceed with cookie deprecation until concerns resolved'

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority says Google must act to address concerns around market dominance.

Getty Images
Getty Images

The UK Competition and Markets Authority could delay Google’s timeline for the phase-out of the use of third-party cookies.

In its latest report on Google’s Privacy Sandbox, the CMA states that while Google has so far complied with its commitments, there are still several areas of concern that will need to be addressed before it completely removes third-party cookies from Chrome later this year.

Commenting on the update, Paul Bland, head of biddable at Havas Media Network UK, said: “What's clear – while there is progress, there remain many outstanding questions and requirements for resolutions, against the backdrop of what now feels like a relatively short timeframe of the proposed deprecation of the cookie. 

“Therefore, this is a welcome constructive dialogue between the industry, the CMA and Google to address outstanding items to resolve as we go cookieless.”

Specifically, ahead of third-party cookie deprecation, the CMA has asked Google for four things:

  1. To ensure it does not “design, develop or use the Privacy Sandbox proposals in ways that reinforce the existing market position of its advertising products and services, including Google Ad Manager”
  2. To address specific design issues with other Privacy Sandbox tools, such as how its Topics API alternative for relevant targeting may disadvantage small ad tech firms and who will govern the Topics API taxonomy (the CMA has suggested it should be done by an an external, industry-run group)
  3. To clarify the long-term governance arrangements for Privacy Sandbox
  4. To give its assurances for the future development of the Privacy Sandbox tools, including a commitment to continue engaging with industry stakeholders.

The CMA stated: “This does not mean that we currently think the Privacy Sandbox changes cannot go ahead.” But some in the industry believe that alleviating the concerns will take longer than anticipated. 

James Rosewell, co-founder of Movement for an Open Web, said: “This report is a major slap on the wrist for Google. Underneath the diplomatic language lie at least 39 areas of significant regulatory concern that Google will need to address before third-party cookies can be removed. 

“The CMA states that ‘Google cannot proceed with third-party cookie deprecation until our concerns are resolved’ and – although the CMA doesn’t say it explicitly – no sensible reader would believe that these problems can be overcome in the next few years.”

Among the other concerns raised in the report is the fact that Privacy Sandbox tools do not support all current ad tech use cases and business practices.

It could therefore incentivise ad spend away from the open display market into "walled gardens" such as Google, Meta, and Amazon, which have access to sizeable stores of first-party data.

Todd Parsons, chief product officer at online display ad provider Criteo, said: “By removing third-party cookies without a replacement offering that supports common advertising use cases, it's highly likely digital ad spend will gravitate further towards Google, carrying negative implications for the competitiveness and health of the ecosystem.”

The CMA’s next report on the Privacy Sandbox is due at the end of April, and will give an update on the current test period, which sees cookies deactivated for 1% of Chrome users (around 32 million people). 

Bland added: “All said, whatever is happening between Google and the CMA doesn’t change the fact the cookie is deprecating along with other changes in a constantly evolving market. That’s why it’s important the industry has solutions that can adapt to handle the market’s transition in an ethical and transparent manner no matter the bumps in the road.”

Campaign UK

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