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Googles renewed privacy push raises tough antitrust questions

Google is moving to give people more control over how their ..

Google is moving to give people more control over how their data is collected online. It may also be wading into an antitrust quagmire.

As part of a two-year overhaul, the search giant announced it will no longer allow so-called “third-party cookies,” or digital trackers that follow peoples activities across the internet, to be used on its popular Chrome browser from 2022 onward.

The decision means that a publisher, for instance, would no longer be able to collect information about its readers on other websites via these trackers if its readers rely on Chrome, which is used by one out of every two web users outside China.

The move, which has been billed as privacy-boosting, follows increased scrutiny of such data-harvesting techniques in the European Union and California, which have both revamped privacy standards to limit how much digital information can be collected, stored and used on web users from Sacramento to Strasbourg.

“Users are demanding greater privacy,” Justin Schuh, director of Chromes engineering team, said in a blog post. “Its clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.”

“They are trying to walk a tightrope so they wont be accused of antitrust abuses” — Dimitrios Katsifis, associate at Geradin Partners

But by calling time on third-party cookies — which remain the most prevalent online advertising tool, particularly on desktop computers — Google also opens itself to potential accusations that it will favor its own data-hungry services over those of competitors.

The search giant is, with Facebook, one of the worlds most powerful players in online advertising, and will continue to collect and use data gathered on users as part of its global online advertising business.

That could amount to a major advantage over advertising rivals that would eventually find themselves shut out of the Googles dominant browser, and bolster the tech companys already prominent position in an online advertising industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

The repercussions of Googles move underscore how different areas of digital rulemaking, like privacy and competition, are increasingly butting up against one another. As Google touts what it says is a privacy-friendly change for users, it may also have put itself in the crosshairs of antitrust enforcers who are already eying companies use of data as a possible antitrust concern in a series of competition cases involving many of Silicon Valleys biggest names.

“Google is well aware of the competition issues,” said Dimitrios Katsifis, an associate at Geradin Partners, a law firm in Brussels that advises mostly publishers on competition issues, including those involving Google. “They are trying to walk a tightrope so they wont be accused of antitrust abuses.”

Privacy vs. competition

Google rejected claims that its latest move on Chrome would give it an unfair advantage.

A spokesman said that since the company announced plans in August to revamp peoples privacy controls for online advertising, the search engine has followed regulatory advice on how to restrict which third parties could access such information.

Executives at European and U.S. publishers and advertising firms told POLITICO that while Googles changes would likely affect other online ad services, they were part of a wider overhaul of companies data-collection practices that had been spurred by Europes privacy rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

Two advertising executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about the companies relationship with Google, said that people were already cutting back on the use of third-party cookies. Instead, the online advertising industry is increasingly relying on data collected directly on publishers websites, and not from peoples broader internet activities, to serve up ads to would-be customers.

Still, Googles upcoming restrictions were greeted with skepticism by its long list of critics — in part because the companys move would give advertisers more incentive to use the search giants own services, which would not be affectRead More – Source

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