German media industry opposes Google’s planned cookie phase-out – EURACTIV

*Updated with comment from the European Commission

Germany’s media and advertising industry has criticised Google for the third-party cookie phase-out it plans to implement in its Chrome browser by 2023 as it could deprive them of a lucrative source of revenue. EURACTIV Germany reports.

A broad alliance of media and communications industry associations published a position paper on Monday (24 January) opposing Google’s plan.

The eight associations representing almost the entire advertising and media landscape in Germany sent a letter to the European Commission, claiming Google’s planned move would be an abuse of its dominant market position. The Chrome browser has a worldwide market share of around 65%.

This could cause significant financial difficulties for media companies, with online publishers potentially suffering revenue losses of up to 70%. Data gathered from cookies is one of the cornerstones of online media serving ads tailored to internet users.

However, while Google will continue to access the data it collects, advertisers will face massive obstacles in using the data legally.

“Through its conduct, Google abuses its market power under the guise of data protection and distorts free competition in online advertising markets,” the letter states. The authors also accuse Google of acting as a “substitute legislator”.

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French and German SMEs oppose tracking-based ads, survey finds

Ahead of a crucial EU parliamentary vote on the Digital Services Act, a survey has found that a majority of small businesses in France and Germany want alternatives to tracking-based advertisements by Google and Facebook, which they perceive as being too invasive.

More privacy

Google has argued that the new measures were developed to ensure a “more private and secure internet”.

“The goal is to protect users’ privacy and prevent hidden tracking while maintaining a thriving, ad-supported, open web,” a Google spokesperson told EURACTIV.

Instead of cookies, the internet giant plans to rely on in-house tracking technology in the future. However, Google says the new technology will not rely on individual user behaviour tracking.

Google’s competitors, such as Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla, have also increasingly moved to block cookies on their browsers.

EU vs Google

The European Commission opened an investigation against Google in June 2021 to assess possible anti-competitive behaviour in online advertising.

The proceedings are directed at Google’s handling of online advertising placements because “Google is present at almost all levels of the supply chain for online display advertising”, EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said at the time.

In its ongoing investigation, the Commission is also examining Google’s announcement to switch to its own in-house tracking technology and the “effects on online display advertising and online display advertising intermediation markets,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.

Google’s planned switch of its tracking technology has also caused a stir in the UK.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation into Google earlier this month because the phase-out of cookie-based technologies could have a “significant impact” on news websites and the online advertising industry.

EU rules ‘cannot be circumvented’

Even after phasing out cookies in the Chrome browser, the use of tracking-based technologies will continue to fall under EU data protection rules.

Data protection groups previously raised concerns that the introduction of new tracking devices could lead to a circumvention of EU data protection rules.

“As far as Google’s considerations are concerned, our analysis has shown that EU data protection legislation cannot be circumvented with this because personal data on browsing behaviour is also collected and processed with this method,” Green/EFA MEP Patrick Breyer told EURACTIV.

Breyer, therefore, does not see the need for additional regulation for now.

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[Edited by Daniel Eck/Luca Bertuzzi/ Alice Taylor]