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Google and competition watchdog agree on rules governing cookie policy changes

The news comes as the European Publishers Council (EPC) issued a European Commission antitrust complaint against Google

The Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) has agreed to a set of commitments from Google that will guide its plan the remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser.

The Privacy Sandbox was first introduced in 2019 with the aim to increase user privacy, yet was criticised by the regulator for potentially increasing Google’s monopoly of the online advertising market.

Following an investigation by the CMA into the Privacy Sandbox in January 2021, Google has now offered commitments to abide by certain restrictions, prompting a pause to the investigation for the time being.

Specifically, any changes made in Chrome in the context of the Privacy Sandbox will also be applied in the same way to Google’s advertising products. Google has also said it will design, develop, and implement the Privacy Sandbox with regulatory oversight from both the CMA and the UK data watchdog, the Information Commissoner's Office (ICO).

Finally, Google will be required to inform and seek consent from the CMA in advance of any decision to remove third-party cookies, which may be withheld if the authority believes it will infringe on market competition.

Google has also committed to appoint a CMA-approved Monitoring Trustee who will report directly to the CMA, provide the CMA with quarterly compliance and monitoring statements, as well as resolve any concerns raised “without delay”.

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A spokesperson for the CMA told IT Pro that, in the case that Google breaks any of the commitments, the watchdog may re-open its Competition Act 1998 investigation.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli described the announcement as “an important step”, yet added that the watchdog is “under no illusions that [its] work is done”.

“We now move into a new phase where we will keep a close eye on Google as it continues to develop these proposals. We will engage with all market participants in this process, in order to ensure that Google is taking account of concerns and suggestions raised,” he added.

Google stated that it is “pleased that today the CMA has accepted these commitments, which now go into immediate effect”.

The news comes as the European Publishers Council (EPC) issued a European Commission antitrust complaint against Google, accusing the tech giant of having a stranglehold over press publishers.

EPC, which counts News UK, Conde Nast, Bonnier News, and Editorial Prensa Iberica among its ranks, called for the European Commission to impose measures that “change, not just challenge” Google’s actions.

A formal investigation into Google’s alleged violation of EU competition laws was opened in June 2021 and is ongoing.

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