Insights Competition and Markets Authority accepts commitments offered by Google in relation to its “Privacy Sandbox” browser changes

In January 2021, the CMA launched a competition investigation over concerns that Google’s proposals to remove third party cookies on Chrome and develop its “Privacy Sandbox” tools would cause online advertising spending to become even more concentrated on Google, weakening competition and so harming consumers who ultimately pay for the cost of online advertising. The CMA was also concerned that the proposals could undermine the ability of online publishers, such as newspapers, to generate revenue and continue to produce valuable content in the future, reducing the public’s choice of news sources.

The CMA has now accepted final commitments from Google, which the CMA says are a result of an in-depth investigation and extensive engagement with Google and market participants, including two formal public consultations. They address the CMA’s competition concerns and Google has also said that the commitments will be rolled out globally.

The CMA is working closely with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to oversee the development of the proposals, so that they protect privacy without unduly restricting competition and harming consumers.

The commitments include:

  • involvement of the CMA and the ICO in the development and testing of the Privacy Sandbox proposals, to ensure they achieve effective outcomes for consumers to protect both competition and privacy;
  • Google will engage in a more transparent process than initially proposed, including engagement with third parties and publishing test results, with the option for the CMA to require Google to address issues raised by the CMA or third parties;
  • Google will not remove third-party cookies until the CMA is satisfied that its competition concerns have been addressed; if the CMA is not satisfied that its competition concerns have been addressed, the CMA may take further action (i.e. re-open its investigation, impose interim measures or proceed to a decision);
  • commitments to restrict the sharing of data within its ecosystem to ensure that it does not gain an advantage over competitors when third-party cookies are removed; and commitments to not self-preference its advertising services; and
  • a Monitoring Trustee will be appointed to work alongside the CMA to ensure the commitments are monitored effectively and Google complies with its obligations; this appointment is expected to be made shortly.

The CMA has also secured mechanisms in the commitments designed to hold Google to account. These include:

  • CMA oversight of the design of tests of replacements to third-party cookies and other Privacy Sandbox proposals;
  • a standstill period of at least 60 days before Google proceeds to withdraw third-party cookies, during which the CMA and Google will work to resolve any remaining competition concerns; and
  • a mechanism for Google to resolve concerns raised by the CMA without delay.

The CMA says that it may re-open its Competition Act 1998 investigation and impose interim measures in future if necessary.

The commitments will terminate six years from 11 February 2022, unless released at an earlier date in accordance with section 31A(4) of the Competition Act 1998. To read the CMA’s press release in full and for links to further information, click here.