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UK competition authority opens investigation into Google browser privacy project
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UK competition authority opens investigation into Google browser privacy project

The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched Friday an investigation into Google’s proposals to remove third party cookies on Chrome and replace them with other tools and functionality to protect user privacy under its “Privacy Sandbox” project.

Google announced the Privacy Sandbox project in August 2019, aimed at overcoming “cross-site tracking,” or companies collecting users’ browsing data by following them from one site to another and monetizing on this data to provide personalized services. According to Google, the project is an attempt to develop web standards such as removing third party cookies to create a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy:

In the ideal end state, from a user’s perspective, there won’t be any difference between how the web of today and the web in a post-Privacy Sandbox world work, except that they will be able to feel confident that the browser is working on their behalf to protect their privacy and when they ask questions about how things work they will like the answers they find. In addition, if a given user is either uncomfortable with or just doesn’t like personalised advertising, they will have the ability to turn it off without any degradation of their experience on the web.

The CMA is investigating whether these proposals could potentially distort competition under Chapter II of the Competition Act 1998. It has previously expressed concerns about digital advertising on online platforms, specifically the potential to “undermine the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising.”

The competition authority has been working towards addressing Privacy Sandbox concerns through discussions with the Information Commissioner’s Office and engaging with Google to dissect the proposals for ensuring they do not breach competition law. It decided to proceed with the investigation upon receiving multiple complaints, including from Marketers for an Open Web, a group of newspaper publishers and technology companies, alleging Google’s abuse of its dominant position.

The CMA said that no conclusions have been reached at this stage to decide if Google infringed competition law and that it will continue to engage with Google and other market participants to address all concerns.