‘Dozens’ of CMA concerns block Google cookie demise

google_broken2Google faces a major challenge to keep to its deadline of phasing out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser this year after a new update by the UK Competition & Markets Authority has highlighted nearly seven dozen “concerns” it has about the so-called Privacy Sandbox, which is due to replace cookies by the end of 2024.

Google has been forced to give UK authorities the final say on any new system to replace third-party cookies since a CMA ruling in 2021, with the competition regulator playing a major role in the design and development of the tech giant’s Privacy Sandbox proposals to ensure they do not distort competition.

After three stays of execution, Google finally started the process of phasing out cookies for 1% of users in January, but the CMA has now put the kibosh on this being rolled out in the UK.

In its quarterly update, the CMA broke down the numerous issues that remain, including 38 specific concerns relating to advertising and the potential impact on the digital advertising ecosystem and on publishers and advertisers.

Among its key concerns are that Google does not design, develop or use the Privacy Sandbox to reinforce the existing market position of its advertising products and services, or whether further restrictions may be needed on Google’s use of first-party data to target and measure ads on Google’s owned and operated inventory.

Concerns around user experience were listed separately, and separate analysis is being carried out by the UK’s data regulator the ICO, which might raise further issues.

Outside of the advertising-specific parts of the Sandbox, a further 33 specific concerns have been were raised by industry participants, and on some of them, the CMA says it currently sides with Google. But on many of them, the CMA’s notes make it clear they remain unresolved.

The CMA also outlined some overall unresolved issues relating to the broader setup of the Privacy Sandbox, including concerns that the changes may hinder ad tech companies’ ability to deliver brand safety protections, and that they may limit ad tech companies’ ability to integrate Sandbox solutions with other identity solutions.

The CMA stated: “Google cannot proceed with third-party cookie deprecation until our concerns are resolved. Once a resolution is achieved, Google will be able to remove third-party cookies without delay.

“We will focus on working with Google to resolve the competition concerns we have identified in this report. We are particularly keen on resolving any remaining concerns relating to the design of the Privacy Sandbox tools and to ensure that Google does not use the tools in a way that self-preferences its own advertising services. As part of this, we are also looking to clarify the longer-term governance arrangements for the Privacy Sandbox.”

While a fresh delay to the demise of third-party cookies might be welcomed by some – one recent study claimed nearly two-thirds UK marketers still have no clear strategy for personalisation in a cookieless world – HubSpot UK&I marketing director Laura Lane reckons brands are simply delaying the inevitable.

She explained: “In an era where data is king, first-party data reigns supreme. A staggering 72% of company revenue comes from existing customers, dwarfing lead generation.

“This seismic shift isn’t just about numbers but about understanding the heartbeat of customer engagement. Brands that harness first-party data aren’t just playing the game – they’re crafting hyper-personalised experiences that turn prospects into loyal customers and long-term revenue streams.

“But here’s the kicker – clinging to third-party data is like holding onto a ticking time bomb. With more than three-quarters of marketers bracing for impact as the cookie crumbles, marketers must adapt or face extinction.”

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