German publishers call for Google to re-consider third party cookie move

Google’s controversial decision to remove third-party cookie access to its Chrome web browser has received arguably its most robust challenge yet.

A group of German publishers headed by Axel Springer have called on the EU’s competition chief, Margrethe Vestager, to force the tech giant to reconsider its plans claiming that the removal of third-party cookie access breaks EU competition law.

The complaint is designed to encourage the EU to launch a formal probe, which conceivably could lead to fines worth up to 10 percent of the company’s global revenues. 

Google outlined its plans back in 2020 and has since delayed the process largely because of ongoing talks with both publishers and legislatures. The latest timetable is for cookies to be removed by the end of 2023. Several companies, including Apple and Mozilla (owners of the Firefox browser) have already removed third-party access from its web browsers, though given Chrome’s 70% market share, the impact of the move is likely to be more keenly felt.

In blocking advertisers, publishers and intermediaries from analysing users’ preferences while they browse online content critics have argued that Google has sounded the death knell to the adtech sector while at the same time significantly reducing the sums that publishers are able to make from online advertising.

The document, which was sent on Monday and leaked to the Financial Times, also points out that while Google’s move would have profound consequences for publishers, it wouldn’t affect the company’s ability to collect vast amounts of user data in ways that leave its own ads-based search business unaffected. 

It states  “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.”

The document is the latest in a series of negative responses to Google’s plans. The UK’s competition watchdog reported that some publishers could lose as much as 70% of their revenue if the plan was instituted. Meanwhile, in the US, regulators have accused the tech giant of colluding with Facebook to shut down rival ad exchanges

In its defence Google has pointed out that the scrutiny it is receiving wasn’t applied to other tech companies.  “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.”

The FT reports that the company has spent big on a lobbying campaign to persuade EU officials not to place limits on its activities, 

FIPP published a report into the death of third-party cookies looking at what might replace them and how publishers should respond, Details of how to access it are here.

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff from Pexels


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