Competition watchdog to work with Google to stop Chrome tracking

The UK Competition and Markets Authority has announced it will take an active role in developing Google’s plans to prevent websites tracking Chrome users.

Under the proposals, the CMA would accept legally binding commitments from Google not to use its proposed replacements for tracking cookies, a set of technologies the search engine calls its Privacy Sandbox, in a way that would harm competition. It is thought to be the first time a competition regulator has been involved at such an early stage in the creation of a new technology.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” said Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive. “That’s why 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.”

Under Google’s plans, first announced in January, the company would follow Apple in banning advertisers – including itself – from tracking the browsing of web users. Instead, it wants to use AI to profile individual people, bundling them with those with similar browsing habits in a way that preserves the ability of advertisers to target them with adverts, without needing to invade their privacy.

That same month, the CMA announced a formal investigation into the proposals. In response, Google offered the regulator an unusual deal: it would offer legally binding commitments to involve the regulator in the plans.

“We welcomed the opportunity to engage with a regulator with the mandate to promote competition for the benefit of consumers,” Oliver Bethell, the head of Google’s competition team in the EMEA region, said. “We are offering a set of commitments –– the result of many hours of discussions with the CMA and more generally with the broader web community –– about how we’ll design and implement the Privacy Sandbox proposals and treat user data in Google’s systems in the years ahead.”The commitments include a promise that Google’s own advertising products will have no advantage over other advertisers in accessing user data; that Chrome browsing histories will not be used to target adverts; and that the CMA will be proactively told about Google’s plans for the future, with a guaranteed pause of at least 60 days before the company ultimately bans third-party cookies.