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UK competition regulator to oversee changes to Google’s privacy sandbox

British regulators have struck a deal with Google to oversee its changes in the way it tracks people online. The country’s competition watchdog said today it had secured “substantial” commitments from the tech giant that address privacy and competition concerns. Regulators launched an investigation into Google’s so-called Privacy Sandbox project in January, fearing it might strengthen its market power.

Google’s replacement for third-party cookies includes cohort identifiers that serve ads to groups of people grouped together based on their common interests. The process effectively “hides” individuals in the crowd and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the Chrome browser, according to the company. However, the changes have sparked protests from regulators and sections of the advertising industry and online publishers who fear Google is bending its own rules.

While orchestrating its Privacy Sandbox, Google promises not to discriminate against its rivals. To allay antitrust concerns, the company said it would not favor its own advertising and ad technology businesses when designing or implementing alternatives to third-party cookies. Google is also committed to limiting the way it uses and combines user data after the changes take effect.

Regulators, meanwhile, are promised increased transparency, including in Google’s test results on alternative technologies. They can also order a 60-day “standstill period” if any of their outstanding concerns have not been resolved, during which they can re-launch an investigation and impose provisional measures.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Information Commissioner’s Office – the UK’s main data regulator – will now consult on commitments with third-party input until July 8. If they agree to accept them, the commitments will become legally binding, the CMA said.

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