Coalition of businesses asks Competition watchdog to impose ground-breaking legal block on launch of ‘anti-competitive’ Google browser technology
London – A coalition of leading technology and publishing companies is asking the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to delay a major technology release by Google that would cement its dominance of online business – and frustrate bids by regulators around the world to ensure fair competition on the internet.
Marketers for an Open Web (MOW), an alliance of businesses campaigning against Google’s attempts to control the open web, has today written to the CMA asking them to impose a legal block on Google to delay the launch of its so-called ‘Privacy Sandbox’ technology, which will remove login, advertising and other features from the open web and place them under Google’s control.
If the move succeeds it will be the first time the CMA has used its wide-ranging powers to challenge the online platforms’ ever-growing control of the internet. The regulator published a highly critical 1800-page report on digital advertising in July, and Chief Executive Andrea Coscelli has said it would take direct action if the UK government doesn’t legislate to rein in the platforms within a year. The forensic analysis of the CMA’s report has been widely applauded, and used as a template for investigations by other regulators around the world.
Google’s dominant Chrome browser and Chromium developer tools (which together run on about 72% of UK computers) are currently being modified to give Google even greater control over how publishers, advertisers and other digital businesses can operate on the web. These changes, known as ‘Privacy Sandbox’ are scheduled for full implementation in early 2021.
Critics say that, despite its name, Google’s new technology has nothing to do with privacy, and everything to do with moving the whole digital advertising industry off the open web, where it supports numerous innovative technology businesses and allows publishers and advertisers to optimise revenue by dealing with the most efficient partners – and into the walled garden of its Chrome browser, where it would be beyond the reach of regulators.
The changes will deny news publishers access to the cookies they use to sell advertising, thereby cutting their revenues by an estimated two-thirds*, with smaller regional titles hardest hit, journalist’s jobs lost, and reliable, fact-checked online news under greater threat than ever.
The CMA, The US Department of Justice and the European Commission have all recognised that Google has dominant power over key parts of the web value chain and are in the process of developing or proposing long term competitive remedies to mitigate that. MOW’s letter is asking for the introduction of Privacy Sandbox to be delayed until such measures are put in place.
MOW is made up of businesses in the online ecosystem who share a concern that Google is threatening the open web model that is vital to the functioning of a free and competitive media and online economy. The internet was originally envisaged as an open environment outside of the control of any single body and Google’s attempts to take control of the open web threaten digital media, online security and other digital businesses.
James Rosewell, Director of MOW, said: “The world’s regulators have realised that Google is attempting to take over the web through its dominance of areas such as search, online advertising and browser technologies. However, their efforts to mitigate this monopoly power will be in vain if Google manages to consolidate its dominance through the introduction of Privacy Sandbox prior to the regulators’ recommended changes to the law being implemented. If Google releases this technology they will effectively own the means by which media companies, advertisers and technology businesses reach their consumers and that change will be irreversible.
“The concept of the open web is based on a decentralised, standards-based environment that is not under the control of any single commercial organisation. This model is vital to the health of a free and independent media, to a competitive digital business environment and to the freedom and choice of all web users. Privacy Sandbox creates new, Google-owned standards and is an irreversible step towards a Google-owned ‘walled garden’ web where they control how businesses and users interact online.”
Tim Cowen, Chair of the Antitrust Practice at Preiskel & Co LLP, said: “We’re not asking for Google to be stopped or to be placed at a disadvantage. We simply ask that governments are given the time they need to put in place the relevant legislation in order to create a level playing field for all digital businesses.”
* CMA – Online Platforms and digital advertising – Market study final report. Paragraph 5.326.
About Marketers for an Open Web (MOW)
Marketers for an Open Web is a coalition campaigning against Google’s attempts to control the open web made up of businesses who share a concern that Google is threatening a vibrant, independent, open web.
The open web is a decentralised, standards-based environment that enables a diverse and competitive online ecosystem and is vital to the functioning of a free and competitive media and online economy. The internet was originally envisaged as an open environment outside of the control of any single body. Google is attempting to take control of the web through its dominant power to the detriment of wider society. These attempts to take control of the open web threaten digital media, online security and other digital businesses.
As recognised by the UK Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), The US Department of Justice and the European Commission, Google has monopoly power over key parts of the internet value chain. MOW has been formed to ensure that a level and fair playing field exists that fosters competition and innovation. In the short term that requires regulators to intervene to create an environment where such an outcome is achievable.
About Privacy Sandbox
At the moment, websites match content to individuals using IDs stored in cookies, small pieces of text that are placed on your computer to remember information such as preferences or login name. The technology that governs these cookies is based on commonly agreed standards that are not controlled by any one commercial organisation.
Privacy Sandbox replaces some of these cookies with a system owned by Google within its Chrome browser and Chromium developer tools, meaning that Google will effectively control how websites can monetize and operate their business. This has major implications for how publishers can use online advertising to fund their businesses and which supply chain vendors they can choose to operate on their website. It will also force people to log into a website to receive access to relevant information or most news.
This means that any business that buys or sells advertising will be reliant on Google for a part of the process whether they like it or not. This will reduce the ability of independent players to compete with Google, strengthening their monopoly control of online commerce.
The impact in practice is that more personal information has to be surrendered to a smaller number of trillion-dollar US oligopolies. It will also impact on a huge range of other cookie-based technologies in areas such as fraud detection and online security.