Google could face antitrust action over cookie ban

Google’s plan for blocking web browser cookies is a cause for concern to U.S. Department of Justice investigators who asked ad industry executives if the search giant’s move would hamper its smaller rivals, people said. close to the situation.

Google announced a year ago that it would ban certain cookies in its Chrome browser to increase user privacy. Over the past two months, Google has released more details, leading to online ad competitors complaining about the loss of the data collection tool.

Questions from Justice Department investigators focused on how Chrome’s policies, including those related to cookies, affect the advertising and news industries, four people said.

Investigators ask if Google is using Chrome, which has 60% of the global market, to reduce competition by preventing competing advertising companies from tracking users through cookies while leaving loopholes to collect data with cookies, tools and tools. analysis and other sources, the sources added. .

The latest conversations, which were not previously reported, are a sign that officials are following Google’s plans in the global online advertising marketplace where it and second-largest Facebook control around 54% of revenue.

The advertising investigation cannot lead to any legal action.

Ongoing investigation

Executives from more than a dozen companies across different industries spoke to Justice Department investigators, one of the sources said.

The government has been investigating Google’s search and advertising activity since mid-2019, and last October it sued Google for allegedly using anti-competitive tactics to maintain its search engine’s dominance. He continued to survey Google’s advertising practices.

Investigators also asked their rivals if they had encountered similar or worse behavior than the advertising-focused charges that attorneys general in Texas and other states launched against Google in a lawsuit last December, the researchers said. people.

The Justice Department declined to comment for this story.

Image: Mitchell Luo / Unsplash

Google has defended its advertising business, saying it helps businesses grow and protects user privacy from exploitative practices. “Huge competition in advertising tools has made online advertising more affordable, reduced costs and expanded options for publishers and advertisers,” the company said.

If the Justice Department sues for advertising-related conduct, it could sue again or join the Texas case, one of the sources said. But antitrust litigation experts said the department also still had time to amend its existing complaint to include ad technology issues.

Texas amended its complaint on Tuesday to, among other things, allege that future changes to Chrome “are anti-competitive because they raise barriers to entry and exclude competition” in web advertising.

Google has restricted the collection and use of data in several of its services. The changes to Chrome would affect ad technology companies that use cookies to collect users’ viewing history in order to deliver more relevant ads to them.

“We don’t believe tracking individuals on the web will stand the test of time as privacy concerns continue to escalate,” Jerry Dischler, Google vice president of ad services, said at ‘an industry conference last week.

But smaller rivals reject the privacy logic used by big companies like Google and Apple to restrict tracking because they would continue to collect valuable data and could potentially capture even more ad revenue.

Confidentiality> competition concerns

“There is a militarization of privacy to justify business decisions that consolidate the power of their business and disadvantage the larger market,” said Chad Engelgau, CEO of the advertising data unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies, Acxiom.

The French competition authority on Wednesday allowed Apple to move forward with new tracking limits, saying privacy prevails over competition concerns.

The UK Competition and Markets Authority is expected to decide soon to block future changes to Chrome. – Reported by Paresh Dave and Diane Bartz, (c) 2021 Reuters

Google could face antitrust action over cookie ban

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