The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) will assess whether the proposal could cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its competitors, following complaints of anticompetitive behaviour.
Third-party cookies help businesses target advertising effectively and fund free online content for consumers, such as newspapers, but there have also been concerns about their legality and use from a privacy perspective, as they allow consumers’ behaviour to be tracked across the web in ways that many people may find difficult to understand.
Google’s announced changes – known collectively as the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project – would disable third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine and replace them with a new set of tools for targeting advertising and other functionality that they say will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent.
The project is already underway, but Google’s final proposals have not yet been decided or implemented.
The CMA highlighted concerns about their potential impact, including that they could undermine the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising, entrenching the internet behemoth’s market power.
The agency concluded that it “has an open mind and has not reached any conclusions at this stage as to whether or not competition law has been infringed”.
It is the UK’s first big antitrust investigation after leaving the EU.