Google offers UK watchdog role in browser cookie phase-out

LONDON — Google is offering U.K. regulators a role overseeing its phasing out of ad-tracking technology from its Chrome browser, in a package of commitments the tech giant is proposing to apply globally to head off a competition investigation.

The U.K. competition watchdog has been investigating Google’s proposals to remove so-called third-party cookies over concerns they would undermine digital ad competition and entrench the company’s market power.

To address the concerns, Google today offered a set of commitments including giving the Competition and Markets Authority an oversight role as the company designs and develops a replacement technology.

“The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach,” Andrea Coscelli, the watchdog’s chief executive, said.

The Competition and Markets Authority will work with tech companies to “shape their behaviour and protect competition to the benefit of consumers,” he said.

Google’s promises also include “substantial limits” on how Google will use and combine individual user data for digital ad purposes and a pledge not to discriminate against rivals in favor of its own ad businesses with the new technology.

If Google’s commitments are accepted, they will be applied globally, the company said in a blog post.

Third-party cookies – snippets of code that log user info – are used to help businesses more effectively target advertising and fund free online content such as newspapers. However, they’ve also been a longstanding source of privacy concerns because they can be used to track users across the internet.

Google shook up the digital ad industry with its plan to do away with third-party cookies, which raised fears newer technology would leave even less room for online ad rivals. The plan involves replacing “individual identifiers” with techniques that hide users in large online groups based on their interests while keeping web browsing histories on devices to maintain privacy.

The competition watchdog will seek feedback until July from other players in the tech and digital ad industry on Google’s commitments. Then it will decide whether to accept Google’s offer and close the competition case.

Google has been busy grappling with a wave tide of antitrust investigations in Europe. The U.K. offer comes days after it resolved another case involving its digital ad business, when it agreed to pay a 220 million euro ($268 million) to France’s antitrust watchdog for abusing its ‘dominant’ position in online advertising.