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Google presses ahead with ‘walled garden’ to replace third-party cookies in Chrome

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Google is pressing ahead with plans to ditch third-party cookies in its Chrome web browser in favour of its own “privacy sandbox”, despite the launch of an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over whether the practice is anti-competitive.

Third-party cookies are created by entities other than the website that the user is currently visiting and allows firms like Google and Facebook to track a user’s activity across the web.

The CMA is concerned that Google’s alternative system will create a walled garden of sorts that will “cause advertising spend to become even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its competitors”.

Google argues they are currently seeking a number of alternative proposals designed to protect a users’ identity on the web by replacing third-party cookies with “viable privacy-first alternatives, developed alongside ecosystem partners”.

Writing in a blog post, Chetna Bindra, Google’s privacy advocate said: “Promising efforts in areas like measurement, fraud protection and anti-fingerprinting are the future of web advertising and the Privacy Sandbox will power our web products in a post third-party cookie world.” 

The current proposal is to group large numbers of people into crowds who have similar interests that advertisers can then target.

“This approach effectively hides individuals 'in the crowd' and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the browser,” Bindra said. She added that despite the broader targeting, advertisers should see revenues reach around 95 per cent of what they receive through third-party cookies.

Other major browsers like Firefox and Safari have already phased out the third-party cookie, but Google has said that doing so without a viable replacement could have unintended consequences.

Marketers for an Open Web (MOW) - a group of newspaper publishers and technology companies which has complained to the CMA about Google's proposed changes - said Google’s claims of collaboration and openness are “disingenuous”.

“Privacy Sandbox is trying to replace an open and interoperable technology with one that is Google-controlled,” a spokesperson said. “This will force marketers into their walled garden and will spell the end of the independent and open web. Google’s proposals are bad for independent media owners, bad for independent advertising technology and bad for advertisers.

“The people who will be most significantly affected by this will be smaller local publishers and independent businesses. They will effectively be cut out of the open online advertising marketplace, causing devastating damage to their businesses.”

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