The UK’s competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will collaborate with Google as it attempts to rework online ad targeting, the regulator and Google have announced. It comes as Google is attempting to phase out the use of third-party cookies for tracking and targeting users with ads and instead use a new set of technologies it’s calling Privacy Sandbox.
In its announcement, Google said this is the first time regulators and technology companies have worked together on new technologies like this. As well as the CMA, the UK’s data protection regulator (the Information Commissioner’s Office, or ICO) will also be involved. “The CMA is taking a leading role in setting out how we can work with the most powerful tech firms to shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers,” the CMA’s chief executive Andrea Coscelli, said in a statement.
The collaboration comes in response to the CMA’s announcement in January that it would be formally investigating Google’s proposals, which involve using AI to bundle users together into anonymised groups to target them with ads (you can read more about the proposals here). Google’s new approach is intended as a more privacy-orientated alternative to tracking cookies, which the company intends to phase out of its Chrome browser over the next year.
However, concerns have been raised that Google’s Privacy Sandbox could harm competition, and concentrate yet more power in the hands of the search giant. There have also been concerns raised about whether the proposals are compatible with Europe’s tough GDPR data protection regulation. Meanwhile, the plans are also facing antitrust scrutiny in the US.
Google has made a series of commitments to the UK regulator about how it will develop and implement the changes. It says it will develop the plans transparently, in a way that doesn’t give itself an unfair advantage, or discriminate against its rivals. It’s also making a commitment to not combine user data from Chrome browsing histories or Google Analytics with its ad products.
For its part, the CMA says these commitments address its concerns, but it’s opening up a public consultation to help it decide whether to accept them. If accepted, the commitments would become legally binding.