Google Chrome changes to be investigated by UK competition regulator

Sundar Pichai, senior vice president for Chrome at Google Inc., holds up a new Chromebook Pixel as he speaks during a launch event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Google Inc., owner of the world’s most popular search engine, debuted a touchscreen version of the Chromebook laptop, stepping up its challenge to Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. in hardware.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — The U.K. competition regulator has announced that it plans to investigate changes that Google intends to make to its Chrome web browser.

The Competition and Markets Authority said on Friday that Google’s plan to remove third party cookies from Chrome could cause advertising spend to “become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its competitors.”

Cookies allow companies to “follow” users around the internet so they can serve them with personalized ads. They have allowed newspapers and other media companies to serve their customers with free online content for years, but have also been criticized by privacy campaigners who view them as intrusive.

Google has said it plans to phase out cookies from its widely-used Chrome browser by 2022 through a group of changes known as a Privacy Sandbox.

The CMA said it had received several complaints about how the Privacy Sandbox will impact competition.

“Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on publishers like newspapers, and the digital advertising market,” said Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, in a statement.

“But there are also privacy concerns to consider, which is why we will continue to work with the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) as we progress this investigation, while also engaging directly with Google and other market participants about our concerns.”

The CMA has the power to fine Google up to 10% of its annual revenue if it finds that it has broken U.K. competition laws. That would be around $4.6 billion based on Google’s 2020 turnover of $46 billion.

Around 80% of the £14 billion ($19 billion) of U.K. spending on digital ads in 2019 went to Google and Facebook, the CMA said last July.

Google has a more-than 90% share of the search advertising market in the U.K., according to the regulator, while Facebook controls more than 50% of the display advertising sector.

A Google spokesperson said: “Creating a more private web, while also enabling the publishers and advertisers who support the free and open internet, requires the industry to make major changes to the way digital advertising works.”

They added that Google welcomed the CMA’s involvement, saying “as we work to develop new proposals to underpin a healthy, ad-supported web without third-party cookies.”

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