Google finds itself in an impossible position. Privacy advocates have long demanded the company follow Microsoft and Mozilla’s lead in purging tracking cookies from Chrome. Now that it’s doing so, a group of state attorneys general has filed an amended antitrust complaint that uses the so-called “Privacy Sandbox” as ammunition against the company. It may be impossible to please everyone when your browser owns most of the internet.
Google announced its intention to phase out third-party cookies last summer. Firefox and Edge just pulled the plug on cookies, but Google is an advertising company. So, it opted to slowly move away from cookies while it worked with the ad industry to devise a new, open system for ad targeting known broadly as the Privacy Sandbox.
One of Google’s antitrust woes is the state-level case brought by 15 (mostly Republican) attorneys general. Texas AG Ken Paxton leads this case currently, and his state updated the lawsuit against Google to call out the Privacy Sandbox. According to the new filing, Google is “trying to hide its true intentions behind a pretext of privacy.”
The filing uses an argument that has been popular among Google critics online. The AGs allege that by blocking third-party tracking cookies, Google is actually walling off a portion of the internet — specifically the 60-ish percent of online consumers who use the Chrome browser. That would, apparently, make Google’s replacement more desirable simply because it has so much market share. Google, of course, disagrees with this argument. The company told The Verge that Paxton’s office has misunderstood what the Privacy Sandbox is and how it works with the open internet.
While I’m no expert, I find the pro-cookie claims in the amended complaint tough to support. It doesn’t make a distinction between first and third-party cookies at all. No one likes third-party tracking cookies, and we’ve all been haranguing Google over its indecision for years. The announcement that it would block cookies last year was widely praised. Just last week, Google confirmed it would not work on a replacement for third-party tracking cookies. Instead, its proposed technologies would allow for targeting of small groups without following individuals around the internet.
Whether this all amounts to Google unfairly leveraging its market position will be decided in court. This comes at the same time the US Justice Department is running its own parallel investigation of Google. The next few years will either affirm or transform Google’s business model.