The Department of Justice is reportedly scrutinizing Google's plans to block third-party tracking cookies in Chrome and stop targeting ads based on individual browsing history. According to Reuters sources, the agency is looking into whether the move to a more anonymized form of ad targeting will harm smaller advertising networks.
Investigators have been asking ad industry executives about the shift, according to the report, including questions about how changes to the way Chrome handles cookies will impact the advertising and news sectors. They are seemingly curious as to whether Google is putting itself in a position to gather data about users while preventing other ad companies from doing so.
“People want their information to stay private as they browse the web," a Google spokeswoman told Engadget in a statement. "That's why we’re working in partnership with the industry through Privacy Sandbox on privacy-preserving alternatives to third-party cookies that support the free and open internet. And as we’ve said, we will not replace third party cookies with alternative methods to track individual people across the web.”
Although the line of inquiry may not lead to legal action, there's a chance that the DoJ could join an antitrust lawsuit from several states over Google's plan to introduce a Privacy Sandbox to Chrome. UK regulators are also investigating Privacy Sandbox.
The Justice Department sued Google in October, accusing the company of holding an unfair monopoly in search and ads related to search. The case is expected to go to trial in 2023. A group of 38 attorneys general filed a separate antitrust suit related to Google Search in December.
Update 3/18 2:05PM ET: Added a comment from Google.