Well, this is big. The U.K.’s competition regulator looks set to get an emergency brake that will allow it to stop Google from ending support for third-party cookies, a technology that’s currently used for targeting online ads, if it believes competition would be harmed by the depreciation going ahead. The development follows an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into Google’s self-styled “Privacy Sandbox” earlier this .
The regulator will have the power to order a standstill of at least 60 days on any move by Google to remove support for cookies from Chrome if it accepts a set of legally binding commitments the latter has offered — and which the regulator has today issued a notification of intention to buy. The CMA could also reopen a fuller investigation if it’s unhappy with how things look when it orders any standstill to stop .
It follows that the watchdog could also block Google’s more comprehensive “Privacy Sandbox” technology transition entirely — if it decides the shift cannot be done in a way that doesn’t harm competition. However, the CMA said today it takes the “provisional” view that Google’s set of commitments will address competition concerns related to its proposals. It’s now opened a consultation toagrees — with the feedback line open until July 8. Commenting in a statement, Andrea Coscelli, the CMA’s chief executive, said:
In a blog post sketching what it’s pledged — under three broad headlines of “Consultation and collaboration,”; “Noproducts,” and “No self-preferencing” — Google writes that if the CMA accepts its commitments, it will “apply them globally”, making the U.K.’s intervention potentially hugely significant. It’s perhaps one slightly unexpected twist of Brexit that puts the U.K. in a for global digital advertising. (The for platform giants’ operations, but the CMA’s intervention on Privacy Sandbox does not yet have a direct equivalent in Brussels.)
Thata U.K. competition intervention into a global commitment is itself very interesting. It may be partly an added sweetener — nudging the CMA to accept the offer so it can feel like a global standard-setter. At the same time, businesses do love operational certainty. So if accepted by one (relatively) primary market because they’ve been co-designed with national oversight bodies and then scale those rules everywhere, it may create a shortcut path to avoiding any more regulator-enforced bumps. So may see this as a smoother path toward the sought-for transition for its adtech business to a post-cookie lot. Of course, it also wants to avoid being ordered to stop entirely (or, well, maybe not! Either outcome would indeed work for Google).