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British regulators will shape Google’s future, as antitrust watchdog reveals Privacy Sandbox deal

June 11, 2021, 10:11 AM UTC

Good morning. David Meyer here in Berlin, filling in for Alan.

The EU has quite a reputation for effectively exporting—or trying to export—its Big Tech rules around the world. As a frequent first mover, it influences the rules that follow outside its borders, and the policy changes that companies make.

The U.K. may no longer be an EU member as of last year, but if it’s trying to keep on making its own mark in this arena, it’s off to a flying start.

This morning, Google and the country’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced a potential deal—it’s now open for consultation—following an investigation into Google’s upcoming privacy changes. (Short version: Google’s phasing out Chrome’s support for third-party tracking cookies, and ad-tech firms and publishers complained to the CMA that Google’s proposed replacement technology would disadvantage them.)

Remarkably, under the deal, the CMA and the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) would hold Google’s hand as it develops its new “Privacy Sandbox” technologies, which are supposed to protect user privacy while still making relevant or semi-targeted advertising possible. To be clear, we’re talking about the future of Google here, globally—and British antitrust and privacy regulators will be shaping it.

Yes, the watchdogs are enforcing competition and data-protection laws that are essentially unchanged from when the U.K. was in the EU, so the specter of EU influence still looms large here. And French competition regulators have also been busy whipping Google’s ad business into shape this week. But, that said, the CMA and ICO’s close cooperation—a competition-privacy partnership that specifically targets the realities of Big Tech—is novel and probably indicative of the wider future of tech regulation.

In this case, Google’s proposed commitments (which would be legally binding) include: involving the CMA and the ICO in the development of its Privacy Sandbox proposals; no discrimination against advertising and ad-tech rivals when designing the post-cookie paradigm; the public disclosure of results when Google tests its cookie alternatives—and even “a standstill period of at least 60 days before Google proceeds with the removal of third party cookies,” so the CMA can check everything’s kosher before giving the go-ahead.

Here’s what CMA CEO Andrea Coscelli said this morning: “The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach. That’s why the CMA is taking a leading role in setting out how we can work with the most powerful tech firms to shape their behavior and protect competition to the benefit of consumers.”

And here’s Google legal director Oliver Bethell: “If the CMA accepts these commitments, we will apply them globally…We understand that our plans will be scrutinized, so we’ll also continue to engage with other regulators, industry partners and privacy experts as well. We believe that these kinds of investments in privacy will create more opportunity, not less.”

Made in America; upgraded in Europe. More news below.

David Meyer


EA hack

Electronic Arts got hacked, with the attackers nabbing source code for EA's hit FIFA 21 soccer game and trying to sell it on underground hacking forums, and also obtaining the code for EA's Frostbit gaming engine. Disclosure of the hack knocked EA's shares by nearly 2.8%, though they mostly recovered. Fortune

Amazon fine

Amazon could be whacked with a fine of over $425 million in Luxembourg, where the privacy regulator reckons Amazon has broken the EU's General Data Protection Regulation. This would be the biggest GDPR fine to date. Amazon's crime? That's not publicly known yet, though it has something to do with the collection and use of personal data. Wall Street Journal

Side effects

The CDC says it's seeing more cases of heart inflammation than expected in 16-to-24-year-olds who received their second Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines. We're still talking about very rare cases of myocarditis or pericarditis, but the CDC thought it would see 10-102 cases by the end of May and actually saw 275. CNBC

Bitcoin and Basel

Global banking regulators say the industry faces increased risks from cryptocurrencies, due to everything from wild volatility to the money-laundering problem. Therefore, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has proposed the toughest possible capital requirements for holdings in Bitcoin and other cryptoassets: a 1,250% risk weight. It’s a big mainstreaming move for crypto though. Fortune


$25 minimum

Aspiration CEO Andrei Cherny implemented a $25 minimum hourly wage across his financial-services company, and in this piece for Fortune he runs through the reasoning: "Today’s smartest companies know that in order to grow and thrive they have to act responsibly—toward their customers, their community, their employees and the environment. Research has shown that companies with strong practices toward their people and the planet end up outperforming their peers." Fortune

Blackstone buildings

Fortune's Shawn Tully provides a deep look at how the private equity giant became the world's largest private owner of commercial real estate: "In the past several years, [Blackstone] has consistently delivered returns that range from low double digits for its more conservative, longer-term vehicles to well above that for its more opportunistic offerings. It has hit those marks by exiting areas that faded soon after, notably suburban shopping malls and offices in overbuilt U.S. cities, while pivoting to four categories where it previously parked little cash, but that have since prospered mightily." Fortune

Crypto COVID-19

Last week's Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami was one of the biggest gatherings in the U.S. since the pandemic started. There were lots of parties. Not many people wore masks. So, how did it go? Lots of people caught COVID-19. Bloomberg

Sausage meat

The EU and the U.K. are at a serious impasse over the issue of chilled meat. At least, that's the quirky headline; the underlying issue is the longstanding one about post-Brexit border checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. And it really is a serious problem with no solution in sight. This is a good Anand Menon piece on the sausage-y situation, and where President Biden fits into it. Guardian

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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