Google agrees with UK’s CMA to deeper oversight of Privacy Sandbox

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As part of an ongoing antitrust investigation by the UK’s competition regulator into Google’s privacy sandbox, the edtech giant has agreed to an expanded set of commitments related to monitoring its planned migration away from tracking cookies, regulator announced today.

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Google has also blog post on the amendments – which it says “underscore our commitment to ensuring that the changes we make to Chrome apply to Google’s advertising technology products in the same way as to any third parties, and The Privacy Sandbox API will be designed, developed and implemented with regulatory oversight and input from CMA [Competition and Markets Authority] and ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office],

Google announced its intention in 2019 to end support for third-party tracking cookies used to target ads at individuals in its Chrome browser — and with what it claims are less intrusive alternative ad-targeting. has been working on a plethora of technologies (aka, “Privacy Sandbox”) ever since.


The basic idea is to move from advertising targeted at individuals (which is terrible for Internet users’ privacy) to targeting in ways that put Internet users into interest-based buckets and advertising to so-called “groups” of users (aka, FOC) which may be less intrusive personally – although it is important to note that Google’s proposed alternative still has a lot of critics ( flights, for example, have suggested that it may also exacerbate problems such as discrimination and violent ad targeting).

And many privacy advocates would argue that pure-play contextual targeting poses the least risk to the rights of Internet users, while still giving advertisers the ability to reach relevant audiences and publishers to monetize their content. .

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Google’s sandbox plan has taken the hardest hit from advertisers and publishers, who will be directly affected by the changes. Some of whom have expressed concern that opting out of tracking cookies would increase Google’s market power – so the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is launching an antitrust investigation into the plan. January.

As part of that investigation, CMA had already secured a set of commitments from Google on how it would go about the switch, including whether to remove cookies if the regulator is not satisfied. Will agree to stop any move. in a manner that respects both competition and privacy; and agreement on self-preference, among others.

A market consultation on the initial set of commitments elicited responses from more than 40 third parties – including, as Nerdshala understands, input from international regulators (some of whom are also investigating Google’s sandbox, such as the European Commission), Which opened its investigation of Google edtech in June)

After that, the first set of proposed commitments are expanded and added with additional requirements (see below for a summary; and Here See CMA’s “Notice of Intent to Accept Revised Commitments” for full details).

The CMA will now consult on an extended set – with a deadline of 5 pm on December 17, 2021 – to take fresh feedback.

It will then take a call on whether the beefed up bundle bakes in enough check-and-balance to ensure Google moves away from tracking cookies with minimal impact on competition and minimal damage to user privacy. (although it will be the UK’s ICO that is ultimately responsible for monitoring the latter piece).

If the CMA is happy with the responses to the revised commitments, it will close the investigation and move on to a new phase of active oversight, as detailed in the proposal agreed with Google.

A possible deadline for this to happen is early 2022 – but nothing has been confirmed yet.

Commenting in a statement, CMA CEO Andrea Coselli said:

“We have always been clear that Google’s efforts to protect user privacy cannot come at the cost of less competition.

That’s why we have worked with the Information Commissioner’s Office, CMA’s international counterparts and parties throughout this process to secure an outcome that works for all.

We welcome Google’s cooperation and are grateful to all interested parties who have joined us during the consultation.

If accepted, the commitments we have received from Google become legally binding, promote competition in digital markets, and protect online publishers’ ability to raise funds through advertising. and protect the privacy of users.”

more market assurance

In general, the expanded commitments are intended to provide the market with a greater level of assurance that Google will not be able to exploit loopholes in regulatory oversight of the sandbox to undo the intended effect of addressing competition risks and privacy concerns. .

Specifically, Google has agreed to appoint a CMA-approved monitoring trustee – as one of the additional measures suggested to improve reporting and compliance provisions.

It will also dial in reporting requirements, agreeing to ensure that the role of the CMA and the regulator’s ongoing process – which the CMA must now continue for a period of six years – noted in its “major public announcements”. Is; and reporting regularly (quarterly) to CMA on how it takes third party views into account as it continues to build out the technical bundle.

Transparency around testing is also being increased.

On top of that, there have been instances, in recent months, where Google employees haven’t been able to clearly articulate the details of the feedback relating to a basic test of its FlowCee technology, for example. So it’s worth mentioning that another highlighted change requires Google to instruct its employees not to make claims for customers who contradict commitments.

Another concern reflected in the amendments concerns the removal of functionality or information by Google’s market participants before the full privacy sandbox changes are implemented – so it has offered to delay the implementation of its privacy budget proposal and Offered commitments around the introduction of measures to reduce access to IP addresses.

We understand that market participants’ concerns have also led Google to remove other functionalities – such as user agent strings – and that stronger commitments are aimed at addressing those broader concerns as well.

Self-preference requirements have also been dialed in. And the revised commitments include clarifications on the internal limits of the data Google can use — and monitoring those elements will be an important focus for the Trustees.

The period of active oversight by the CMA has also been extended compared to previously planned – up to six years (up from about five) from the date of any decision to accept Google’s revised commitments.

This means that if the CMA agrees to the commitments next year, they could come into force by 2028. And until then the UK hopes to reform competition rules by keeping the tech giant under wraps – as

In its own blog post, Google condemns the revised commitments as follows:

  1. Monitoring and reporting. We have offered to appoint an independent monitoring trustee who will have the necessary access and technical expertise to ensure compliance.
  2. Testing and Consulting. We have offered CMA more comprehensive testing commitments, along with a more transparent process for taking market feedback on privacy sandbox proposals.
  3. Further clarity on our use of the data. We are underscoring our commitment not to use Google first-party personal data to track users for the targeting and measurement of ads shown on non-Google websites. Our commitments will also restrict the use of Chrome browsing history and Analytics data to do so on Google or non-Google websites.

As with the first set of pledges, it has agreed to implement additional commitments globally – assuming the package is accepted by the UK regulator.

The UK regulator is therefore instrumental in shaping the way the major web infrastructure is developed.

Google’s blog also references an opinion published yesterday by the UK Information Commission – which urged the adtech industry to move away from current tracking and profiling methods of ad targeting.

“We also support the objectives set yesterday in the ICO” View on data protection and privacy requirements for online advertising offerings, including supporting and developing privacy-protected advertising tools that protect people’s privacy and prevent covert tracking,” Google noted.

Google this summer announced a delay to its previous timeline for tracking cookies — saying support in Chrome wouldn’t begin in a phased manner until the second half of 2023.

There has been no suggestion from the tech giant as to the point of any additional delays for the time being – assuming it gets the regulatory greenlight to proceed.

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