It is estimated that the change by Google would see revenues to publishers that use cookies to sell online ads fall by two-thirds
It is estimated that the change by Google would see revenues to publishers that use cookies to sell online ads fall by two-thirds © REUTERS

Google’s plan to block companies from tracking people across the web would entrench its control of online advertising and damage competition, according to a complaint to the UK’s antitrust authorities.

Marketers for an Open Web (MOW), a lobby group, has urged the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to stop Google from rolling out a new “privacy sandbox” that it says would give the US company even more power over the data that underpins online ads.

Google has said that its Chrome browser, which is used by almost 70 per cent of desktop computers to surf the web, according to NetMarketShare, would phase out the use of “cookies” by 2022, effectively ending the system of cross-website tracking that has underpinned digital advertising for 25 years.

Instead, its privacy sandbox would provide other tools to target users with ads according to their online behaviour, but the data itself would be under the control of Google and Chrome.

“If Google releases this technology, they will effectively own the means by which media companies, advertisers and technology businesses reach their consumers and that change will be irreversible,” said James Rosewell, director of MOW.

“The concept of the open web is based on a decentralised, standards-based environment that is not under the control of any single commercial organisation.” MOW estimated that the change would see revenues to publishers that use cookies to sell online ads fall by two-thirds.

The complaint is the latest to claim that big US tech platforms are using privacy as an excuse to abuse their market position and squeeze out the “open web” of online advertising that relies on easily accessible tracking data.

In a similar case, a coalition of trade groups in online advertising recently asked France’s competition authority to stop Apple applying privacy controls early next year that would cripple targeted advertising on iPhones.

In a statement, the CMA said it was taking the complaint “very seriously” and was deciding whether to open a formal investigation. If the regulator was to block Google’s new technology by imposing interim measures, it would be the first time the UK had taken direct action against Big Tech.

In July, the CMA released the final report of its market study into the sector and threw its weight behind calls for a new digital regulator to police the actions of Big Tech. 

In October, CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli told the Financial Times the agency would take action against companies such as Google and Facebook if the government failed to introduce new laws within a year. 

Google said in a statement: “The ad-supported web is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations around how data is collected and used.

“That’s why Google introduced the privacy sandbox, an open initiative built in collaboration with the industry, to provide strong privacy for users while also supporting publishers.”


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