UK investigating Google Chrome privacy plan

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The UK’s competition authority has confirmed that it has opened an investigation into Google Chrome’s (opens in new tab) new privacy policy. Google’s Privacy Sandbox plans to block third-party cookies – the main mechanism by which individuals are tracked during their online activities.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) states that it has received an unspecified number of complaints regarding the potential impact of the Privacy Sandbox. It highlights one, by a group of newspaper publishers and technology companies calling themselves the Marketers for an Open Web Limited, which alleges that Google’s new privacy proposals amount to an abuse of its dominant position in the online sphere.

“As the CMA found in its recent market study, Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on publishers like newspapers, and the digital advertising market,” Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said (opens in new tab). “But there are also privacy concerns to consider, which is why we will continue to work with the ICO as we progress this investigation, while also engaging directly with Google and other market participants about our concerns.”

Competition crackdown

The Privacy Sandbox is not due to launch until 2022, at which point the amount of data that advertisers receive will change markedly. Third-party cookies will be replaced with a new set of tools, ones that could give Google an unfair advantage over other advertisers.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox will also look to crack down on other forms of cross-site tracking, including fingerprinting, cache inspection, link decoration, and network tracking. While this approach will better safeguard user privacy, it leaves advertisers in a bind.

This is the second high-profile technology investigation that the CMA has launched recently, after confirming that it was looking into Nvidia’s proposed takeover (opens in new tab) of British chipmaker Arm. Although it is important that the CMA does not allow monopolistic practices to take root in the UK’s business sector, it is also essential that it does not gain a reputation for stifling innovation.

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Barclay has been writing about technology for a decade, starting out as a freelancer with ITProPortal covering everything from London’s start-up scene to comparisons of the best cloud storage services.  After that, he spent some time as the managing editor of an online outlet focusing on cloud computing, furthering his interest in virtualization, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.