UK regulator accepts Google's updated proposal on browser cookie tracking

The government will keep a 'close eye' on the Privacy Sandbox development.

Hannah Mckay / reuters

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has accepted Google's latest plan to replace third-party cookies from the Chrome Browser. The regulator said that Google made legally binding commitments to address its concerns that the "Privacy Sandbox" would weaken competition and harm consumers.

Early in 2021, the CMA announced that it would investigate Google's plan to replace third party cookies with "trust tokens." It said that Google's plan "could undermine the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising, entrenching Google’s market power." It added that it received complaints from publishers and tech companies which alleged that Google may be "abusing its dominant position."

While this is an important step, we are under no illusions that our work is done. We now move into a new phase where we will keep a close eye on Google as it continues to develop these proposals.

The CMA said that Google has promised to use a "more transparent process than initially proposed." It will now engage with third parties and publish test results, and must address any issues raised by the CMA or third parties. It will also not remove third-party cookies "until the CMA is satisfied that its competition concerns have been addressed."

In its own blog post on the matter, Google said it would "design, develop and implement Privacy Sandbox with regulatory oversight and input from the CMA and the ICO." It promised to apply the commitments globally, not just in the UK, as "we believe that they provide a roadmap for how to address both privacy and competition concerns in this evolving sector," Google wrote.

Last year, Google delayed the rollout of third-party cookies until mid-2023, rather than the 2022 timeline it originally set. It admitted at the time that it "needs more time across the ecosystem to get this right." Google had originally proposed a cookie alternative called "FLoC" (Federated Learning of Cohorts) but announced last month that it was testing a replacement called Topics API.