June 11, 2021
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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.