Google Privacy Sandbox added to US antitrust compaint

The company's plan to replace third-party cookies forces advertisers to do business with Google, the complaint alleges

A group of US states has extended an antitrust complaint against Google, addressing its move to a new advertising tracking method.

The attorneys general of 13 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have taken issue with the search giant's plan to replace third-party cookies in Chrome, slamming the move as a walled garden approach that forces advertisers to do business with Google.

The states have amended a complaint filed in December that accuses the company of misleading users and advertisers alike. The original document accused the advertising giant of manipulating users into logging into Chrome and routing advertising requests to its own exchange, even when a competing exchange had submitted a higher bid.

The amendments address Google's proposal last year for a new way of tracking users which would see it eliminate third-party cookies. The company recently detailed plans to replace this with a mechanism called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which will track people in aggregate, clustering together large groups of people with similar interests.

This has prompted criticism from Oracle executives among others, who worry that the company is cementing its position as the gatekeeper for digital advertising by collecting proprietary information about web users.

The litigant states warn that cutting out third-party cookies will reduce options for advertisers.

"A small advertiser like a local car dealership will no longer be able to use cookies to advertise across The Dallas Morning News and The Austin Chronicle. But the same advertiser will be able to continue tracking and targeting ads across Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail - amongst the largest sites in the world - because Google relies on a different type of cookie (which Chrome will not block) and alternative tracking technologies to offer such cross-site tracking to advertisers," the updated complaint reads.

"By blocking cookies, and through proposals in Privacy Sandbox, Google forcibly inserts itself in the middle of publishers’ business relationships with non-Google advertising companies, cutting off publishers’ ability to transact with rivals without also going through Google," it continues.

Texas is leading the multi-state lawsuit. Its attorney general Ken Paxton has led a campaign against big tech companies, which he accused of partisan politics after several of them censored former president Trump in January. Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have joined it in the suit.

This isn't the only antitrust suit against Google. The Department of Justice also charged the company with anticompetitive practices last October.

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