Google today (28th July) published an update on its Privacy Sandbox technology, announcing the expansion of testing of APIs within the Privacy Sandbox, taking testing to the public as of August 2022. The announcement also pushed back the earliest date that third-party cookies (TPCs) would be unilaterally phased out by Google to 2024.
This announcement is significant. Google pushing back the deprecation of third-party cookies is a clear indication that the commitments made with the CMA are having an impact on Google’s behaviour, forcing the company to delay plans to cut off key data streams relied on by competitors.
This change of course is a strong indication the Commitments are in part doing what they are intended to: protecting competition across digital markets from Google’s unilateral decisions. Google has obligated itself to commitments that mean it cannot unilaterally make the decision on whether Privacy Sandbox is viable. However, this announcement does reinforce other points of issue with Google’s conduct.
Google continues to impose its “distraction tax” on rivals regarding its Privacy Sandbox proposals – dictating the narrative and requiring competitors to follow its often haphazard and unpredictable lead. The shift from Cookies being a cornerstone of web infrastructure, to facing imminent deprecation, to that deprecation being pushed back creates uncertainty. This uncertainty is unambiguously harmful to any business that currently relies on cookies.
Furthermore, and seemingly unrecognised by Google, under the commitments it cannot remove third-party cookies until 2028, unless it proves to the CMA’s satisfaction that replacing technologies will address the concerns over competition. Google’s public shift towards 2024 as a potential end-date for cookies fails outright to recognise this.
The CMA’s apparent ability to force Google’s hand on delaying phasing out cookies is, without doubt, a good thing. Root-and-branch enforcement of the commitments is now needed to ensure Google’s repeat offending in other areas – such as creating uncertainty and harming competition through inadequate API proposals – is brought to heel.
Tim Cowen, Chair of the Antitrust Practice at Preiskel & Co and leading antitrust lawyer said: “We are concerned about online competition and the detail of the CMA report but it is welcome to see that it is having some effect”.