Monday 23 November 2020 10:03 am

New: Watchdog mulls Google probe over ‘anti-competitive’ advertising tech

The UK competition watchdog is mulling a formal investigation into Google after it received a complaint about the tech giant’s “anti-competitive” new advertising technology.

A consortium of businesses today wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) urging it to delay a major new tech release by Google, which they warned would “cement” the tech giant’s dominance of the online landscape.

Read more: Google boss apologises to EU chief over plans to dodge antitrust laws

The complaint relates to Google’s new privacy sandbox, which is set to be rolled out early next year.

The group of online businesses, dubbed Marketers for an Open Web, said this new tech will remove login and advertising features from the open web and put them under Google’s control.

They warned the changes will deny news publishers access to the cookies they use to sell advertising, causing their revenues to fall by two-thirds.

A Google spokesperson said:”The ad-supported web is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations around how data is collected and used.

“That’s why Google introduced the Privacy Sandbox, an open initiative built in collaboration with the industry, to provide strong privacy for users while also supporting publishers.”

Google said it recognised the changes could have an impact on the wider digital ecosystem, and said it did not take that responsibility lightly.

In a statement this morning, the CMA said: “We take the matters raised in the complaint very seriously, and will assess them carefully with a view to deciding whether to open a formal investigation under the Competition Act.”

“If the urgency of the concerns requires us to intervene swiftly, we will also assess whether to impose interim measures to order the suspension of any suspected anti-competitive conduct pending the outcome of a full investigation.”

‘Irreversible’ change

In July the CMA published its findings from a year-long study into online platforms and the digital advertising market, which found that large tech firms such as Google and Facebook had built an “unassailable market position”.

Despite the damning conclusions, the watchdog opted not to intervene, instead calling on the government to finalise its plans for new regulation on tech giants.

However, the CMA previously said it was actively considering taking action against tech behemoths such as Facebook and Google, warning it would only wait one year for a new regulatory regime before intervening alone.

If the watchdog decides to launch a full investigation into Google’s privacy sandbox, it could require the company to put its new technology rollout on hold.

“The world’s regulators have realised that Google is attempting to take over the web through its dominance of areas such as search, online advertising and browser technologies. However, their efforts to mitigate this monopoly power will be in vain if Google manages to consolidate its dominance through the introduction of Privacy Sandbox prior to the regulators’ recommended changes to the law being implemented,” said James Rosewell, director of Marketers for an Open Web.

“If Google releases this technology they will effectively own the means by which media companies, advertisers and technology businesses reach their consumers and that change will be irreversible.”

The complaint is the latest example of heightened scrutiny on Google over alleged anti-competitive behaviour.

The US Justice Department last month filed a lawsuit against the tech giant accusing it of unfairly shutting out rivals in its search engine business.

The EU is also set to outline new legislation aimed at blocking Google from favouring its own web services and setting out tighter rules on content moderation.