The UK's CMA has secured a number of improved commitments from the tech giant, which plans to phase out third-party cookies by 2023
Following a lengthy investigation, Google has provided the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) with improved commitments as it prepares to phase out third-party cookies.
Google announced in 2019 that it would begin removing tracking cookies from Chrome in order to safeguard the privacy of its users. The CMA then launched its own investigation into the proposals in January, given the growing concern around whether Google intended to develop alternatives to cookies in order to claim greater control over digital advertising markets – to the detriment of its competition.
What are cookies?
Cookies are small text files, and they're placed on websites by advertisers to track consumers across the web. The cookies gather data, too, which is incredibly useful to advertisers – and you'll often see them tempting you into making an additional purchase by displaying a product you looked at, but didn't buy.
Cookies have already been banned by the Firefox and Safari browsers, and privacy advocates have slammed them as a gross invasion of digital privacy. This public sentiment, and increasing legal pressure, led to Google's announcement that it would phase out third-party cookies entirely.
Check out our guide on how to block cookies in all browsers for more information about this.
How Google's Privacy Sandbox pledges have changed
Google began developing its alternative to cookies in 2019. The company's very own ad-targeting technology is known as the "Privacy Sandbox", and intends to "create a thriving web ecosystem that is respectful of users and private by default".
Whilst Google took aim at invasive cross-site tracking, the CMA launched its own investigation in January 2021, to ensure that Google intended to respect its competition and safeguard user privacy. As a result, Google has already amended its initial proposal.
The amendments to the Privacy Sandbox were shared with 40 parties during a consultation process. The involved parties have since suggested that Google's commitments could actually be improved.
Google has since been advised to improve its transparency and engagement within the industry, and encouraged to improve its monitoring of compliance as well as its attitude towards self-preferencing its own advertising tools.
The tech giant agreed to make the requested changes – and even included a number of additional commitments. These include a promise to make regular reports to the CMA about how the company is taking account of third-party views.
We have always been clear that Google's efforts to protect user's privacy cannot come at the cost of reduced competition.
Google's additional commitments will ideally promote competition within the digital market and give online publishers a better chance of generating revenue through advertising once third-party cookies have been phased out.
The CMA will consult on the amended proposal until December 17. If the CMA accepts Google's revisions, the investigation would come to an end, and a new phase of the CMA's oversight work would begin in its place. Google's new and improved commitments would also become legally binding and applied globally.
Consequences for competition
Whilst Chrome users will certainly celebrate the crumbling of the cookie (and appreciate the fact that they won't be tracked from site to site), privacy advocates have expressed frustration about the limited nature of the plan.
Google will still be able to track users via mobile devices and rake in a huge revenue from its own ads on its own platforms, after all.
But Google's Privacy Sandbox has faced considerable blowback. Critics and concerned digital publishers have claimed that the tools could further inflate Google's market power and funnel more spending through the tech giant. Cookies gather invaluable information about consumer habits, and without them, some businesses will be unable to generate personalized ads – and will instead need to rely more heavily on well-informed Google databases.
Additionally, following Google's plan to phase out third-party cookies, businesses are likely to feel a significant impact on their analytics, tracking, ad re-targeting, and chatbot tools. Free online content may suffer, too, leading to reduced choice for consumers, as businesses like newspapers struggle to generate revenue without targeted ads fueled by cookies.