Tech group lodges complaint with EU over Google Privacy Sandbox

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An alliance of tech businesses, advertisers and publishers has lodged a formal complaint with the European Union over Google’s next generation of its controversial digital advertising system. 

The group, Movement for an Open Web (MOW), claims the new system, which will be an overhaul of how adverts work on the Chrome browser, is hugely anti-competitive.

Google is planning to replace so-called third party cookies with a new ‘Privacy Sandbox’. It means that instead of these traditional cookies, where advertisers can track individuals across the websites they visit, users will be split into cohorts.

But MOW claims this would restrict open web competition by reducing the amount of information other tech, advertising and publishing firms can gather on users.

MOW said the Privacy Sandbox will impair independent analytics, advertising, fraud detection, data services, performance optimisation and other open web features.

It said the California firm will also increase the value of data it gets from sources uniquely available to it through integrated services such as search functions.

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MOW’s complaint, which was filed last week, follows another it made in November 2020 to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. 

This saw Google respond in June this year by offering a series of ‘commitments’ which placed the development of the Privacy Sandbox under the CMA’s supervision.

What are the remedies offered by MOW to the European Commission?

Movement for an Open Web has provided the European Commission with a series of potential remedies relating to Google’s technology changes. These remedies are:

Today, MOW said it has provided the European Commission with evidence of Google’s technology changes and how they impact choice and competition.

MOW added that it has outlined potential remedies and wants the EU to promote independent data management to allow increased privacy and diversity.

These remedies include Google providing the EU with oversight of its planned browser changes, and an obligation to notify the EU in advance of all ‘anti-competitive browser changes’.

It also wants Google to introduce a certified compliance programme requiring regular independent audit and personal verification of compliance by Google management.

Two other remedies are regular qualitative reviews by the EU in parallel with the CMA, and oversight by data protection authorities to satisfy themselves that privacy is being protected.

James Rosewell, director of MOW, said today: ‘The internet was originally envisaged as an open environment outside the control of any single body.

‘Google maintains it is making these changes to protect privacy but if not properly policed, the move threatens digital media, online privacy and innovation. Solutions aligned to laws – not self-serving misuse of the web architecture by the members of Big Tech such as Google – are needed.

‘More people, surrendering more personal data to fewer companies doesn’t improve anyone’s privacy while stifling competition and boosting their huge profits even further.’

Tim Cowen, chair of the antitrust practice at law firm Preiskel & Co in London and a legal advisor to MOW, added: ‘We’re asking that the EU Commission create a level playing field for all digital businesses, to maintain and protect an open web. Google says they’re strengthening ‘privacy’ for end users but they’re not – what they’re really proposing is a creepy data mining party.’

MOW, previously called Marketers for an Open Web, is an alliance of leading tech, advertising, and publishing firms campaigning to maintain open web competition.

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Separately, Google’s lawyers are this week fighting a £3.7billion anti-trust EU fine following deals it made with Android phone makers regarding search functionality.

Google has not yet responded to a request for comment by MailOnline today, but did make a series of commitments to the CMA in June.

At the time, Google committed to develop and implement the new changes in a way that does not distort competition or imposes unfair terms on users of Chrome.

The company has also promised increased transparency on how and when it will implement its new proposals and how it will assess them.

It said there would be no data advantage for Google advertising products under its proposals, and its products or own sites would not have preferential treatment. 

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