German publishers oppose Google plan to phase out third-party cookies

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Google is facing a fresh complaint from Germany’s largest publishers and advertisers, which are demanding that the EU intervene over the search giant’s plan to stop the use of third-party cookies.

Axel Springer, the publisher of titles such as Bild and Politico, is among the hundreds of publishers, advertisers and media groups that have argued to the bloc’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, that Google is breaking EU law with its move to phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by next year.

The decision blocks advertisers, publishers and intermediaries from analysing users’ preferences while they browse online content — a critical blow to how the industry generates revenues.

Axel Springer has been joined by other industry bodies, such as Germany’s federal association of digital publishers, in a 108-page complaint seen by the Financial Times and sent on Monday.

They argue that Google’s planned changes will damage their businesses while allowing the Silicon Valley group to collect vast amounts of user data in ways that leave its own ads-based search business unaffected.

The complaint is the latest effort to try to force Brussels to open a formal probe that can lead to fines worth up to 10 per cent of global revenues. The tech giant has already received more than €8bn in fines across three separate antitrust cases over the past decade.

“Publishers must remain in a position where they are allowed to ask their users for consent to process data, without Google capturing this decision. Google must respect the relationship between publishers and users without interfering,” said the document, which was also sent to the EU’s powerful competition unit.

Google’s decision on cookies had been delayed by nearly two years after the Silicon Valley company said it was in talks with rivals and regulators over the change as it sought to avoid “jeopardising” the business of web publishers. A report by the UK’s competition watchdog found that online publishers risked suffering potentially huge revenue losses of up to 70 per cent.

EU officials are already worried that Google may be abusing its dominant position to benefit its own advertising services to the detriment of competitors. In the US, regulators have also accused the tech giant of colluding with Facebook to shut down rival ad exchanges.

Seeking to avoid further scrutiny, Google has launched a massive lobbying campaign in Brussels against efforts to curb its market power. It has engaged in last-minute attempts to try to influence the EU’s incoming rules on Big Tech with a series of targeted social media posts, emails and advertising campaigns to EU lawmakers.

Regulators in Brussels have already opened an informal inquiry into the search giant’s position in the online market, where it acts as the dominant middleman between advertisers and publishers. This is part of a wider investigation into the way Google collects data that started in 2019.

The company is also launching an appeal at the EU’s top court against an earlier ruling to uphold a €2.42bn fine for promoting its own shopping comparison service above rivals.

Google said: “Many other platforms and browsers have already stopped supporting third-party cookies but Google is the only one to do this openly and in consultation with technical standards bodies, regulators, and the industry, while also proposing new, alternative technologies.”

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