UK officials probe Google’s plan to ditch third-party cookies

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Google’s regulatory problems are growing across the pond.

The UK’s competition watchdog said Friday that it has launched an investigation into the search giant’s proposals to remove third-party cookies and other functions from its Chrome web browser, following concerns the move could harm digital ad rivals.

The Competition and Markets Authority will look into whether Google’s changes would funnel more ad spend into its own ecosystem at the expense of its competitors.

Google is also facing a trio of antitrust lawsuits back home in the States, and has been accused of maintaining monopolies through “multiple forms of anticompetitive conduct in the general search and search advertising-related markets.”

Google’s tech, dubbed the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project, would allow users to be targeted with ads without tracking each person across the web. The watchdog has received complaints from a coalition of tech and publishing companies who accuse Google of “abusing its dominant position” in the sector.

“As the CMA found in its recent market study, Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on publishers like newspapers, and the digital advertising market,” CMA chief Andrea Coscelli said.

Cookies allow advertisers to target consumers with personalized ads and allows newspapers and other sites to provide their content for free.

“[Google] could undermine the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising, entrenching Google’s market power,” Coscelli added.

Other browsers, including Firefox and Apple’s Safari have already blocked third-party cookies, and Google claims its making the change to protect consumers’ privacy.

“Creating a more private web, while also enabling the publishers and advertisers who support the free and open internet, requires the industry to make major changes to the way digital advertising works,” a Google spokeswoman said.

“We welcome the CMA’s involvement as we work to develop new proposals to underpin a healthy, ad-supported web without third-party cookies.”

The CMA said it will work with Britain’s data watchdog on the investigation.

Shares of Google were flat in Friday morning trading.

The investigation comes two months after a group of 165 companies and industry bodies called on the European Union’s antitrust enforcers to crack down on the search giant, accusing it of using its market dominance to favor its own services on web searches.

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