The UK’s Competition and Market Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into Google’s proposals for its ‘Privacy Sandbox’. The CMA cites its concerns about the proposals concentrating ad spend and further entrenching Google’s dominance in the sector.

It isn’t the only UK regulator focusing on Google’s plans. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has also highlighted that its own investigation into the Sandbox is a priority for 2021. This reinforces their wider examination of programmatic advertising, having already ruled in 2019 that realtime bidding (RTB) contravenes GDPR due to personal data being shared without explicit consent.

The Privacy Sandbox is the name for Google’s collection of proposals that they plan to build into their Chrome browser. Together, they replace the third-party cookie and the role that it plays in online advertising.

If announcements from Google’s engineering team and Google’s Ad Team are to believed, the proposed changes will be fantastic for consumer privacy and the wider digital advertising industry.

But the investigations by the CMA and the ICO show concern around privacy, consumer consent and competition. In 2020, the CMA’s Online Platforms and Digital Advertising Market Study concluded that Google had amassed an excess of market power and proposed that a regulatory regime should be set up to address the lack of competition in digital advertising.

There is widespread analysis that the proposals could negatively impact consumer privacy and reduce competition in the advertising sector.

The EFF has analysed Google’s proposals in detail and believes that, while removing the third-party cookie is a positive step, the new browser integrations represent “the opposite of privacy-preserving technology”. All the other browser vendors have now rejected the use of Google’s proposed tools and leading publishers are opting out.

Amid this scrutiny, from regulators, publishers and independent bodies, Google has now withdrawn its trials from the European market.

At Glimpse, we agree that the third-party cookie is harmful to consumer privacy and should be removed. But the future shouldn’t rely on alternative technologies that maintain the harms.

Technology exists today to allow consumer data to be protected while still allowing advertisers and publishers to deliver digital marketing effectively. Advertising needs to be reimagined with such technology.

Privacy isn’t disruption. It’s a right. And the current turmoil is an opportunity to restore the value chain between advertiser and publisher.

We hope that the UK regulators maintain the pressure and drive the sector towards new privacy-preserving technologies that can transform advertising to meet the values and expectations of consumers, brands and publishers.

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