Australian regulators on alert as Google hits cookies roadblock

By Ruby Derrick | 24 April 2024
Credit: Muhammad Daudy via Unsplash.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is closely following moves that could block the removal of third-party cookies by Google, AdNews can reveal. 

The notice comes as Google confirmed it would delay the deprecation of third party cookies following pushback from UK regulators.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has stated that Google cannot proceed with the move until competition concerns are resolved. 

The CMA’s latest report on Google’s Privacy Sandbox highlights several unresolved issues that need addressing prior to their removal from Chrome, originally scheduled for later this year. It is understood UK regulators will update the market on their investigation in a report at the end of this month.

“The ACCC is closely following Google’s implementation of the commitments it provided in response to the CMA’s investigation into Google’s proposed Privacy Sandbox and the associated deprecation of third-party cookies on Chrome,” an ACCC spokesperson told AdNews.

“We support Google working cooperatively with the CMA to ensure that the Privacy Sandbox browser changes are developed and implemented in a way that protects competition in the ad tech sector.”

This week, WSJ reported further concerns around user privacy and identification in an internal report by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). According to WSJ, the ICO is attempting to get Google to make changes and share its concerns with the CMA.

Industry insiders say any move in the UK is likely to have implications here. However, the ACCC said there was no regulatory obligation on Google. 

“While Google has stated it will implement any changes agreed with the CMA globally, we note there is no legal requirement for Google to maintain those commitments in Australia," said the ACCC.

"The CMA’s work is one of a number of positive developments happening overseas to address significant competition issues in digital platform markets, including broader regulatory reform in jurisdictions including the United Kingdom, the European Union, Japan and India.”

The ACCC considered Google’s proposed changes in its own 2021 Digital Advertising Services Inquiry. The report raised concerns that deprecating third-party cookies in Chrome will increase Google’s incentive to use its exclusive first-party data to target advertising on third-party advertising inventory, since rivals will no longer have access to the data provided by third-party cookies.

The report recommended new measures in Australia to address such issues, including the power to make data separation requirements similar to the commitments Google has offered to the CMA.

“The ACCC has recommended new laws for digital platforms to bolster competition in the digital economy, level the playing field between big tech companies and Australian businesses, and reduce prices for consumers,” the ACCC spokesperson said.

In December, the Australian Government responded to the ACCC’s recommendation for additional competition measures, supporting them in principle. The Treasury is working on the design of a legislative framework and is likely to publicly consult on this work before any reforms are implemented.

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