Google Promises 'Substantial Limits' on Usage of User Data Amid U.K. Investigation

Google is promising "substantial limits" on its usage of user data amid an investigation by the U.K.'s competition watchdog into the tech giant's proposals of eliminating so-called third-party cookies.

The U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is concerned over the proposal to remove third-party cookies due to worries it would threaten digital ad competition. Google announced a set of commitments on Friday, including limits on the usage of user data as well as giving the CMA an oversight role.

"The CMA is now asking others in the industry for feedback on these commitments as part of a public consultation, with a view to making them legally binding," Google said in a company blog post on Friday. "If the CMA accepts these commitments, we will apply them globally."

The promise of limiting the usage of user data involves how the company combines a user's data for digital ad purposes.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Google Office in California
Google has promised "substantial limits' on its usage of user data in a set of announced commitments. AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Google is offering U.K. regulators a role overseeing its phasing out of ad-tracking technology from its Chrome browser.

"The emergence of tech giants such as Google has presented competition authorities around the world with new challenges that require a new approach," Andrea Coscelli, the watchdog's chief executive, said.

The CMA will work with tech companies to "shape their behavior and protect competition to the benefit of consumers," he said.

Google's promises also include a pledge not to discriminate against rivals in favor of its own ad businesses with the new technology.

Third-party cookies - snippets of code that log user info - are used to help businesses more effectively target advertising and fund free online content such as newspapers. However, they've also been a longstanding source of privacy concerns because they can be used to track users across the internet.

Google shook up the digital ad industry with its plan to do away with third-party cookies, which raised fears newer technology would leave even less room for online ad rivals. The plan involves replacing "individual identifiers" with techniques that hide users in large online groups based on their interests while keeping web browsing histories on devices to maintain privacy.

The competition watchdog will seek feedback until July from other players in the tech and digital ad industry on Google's commitments. Then it will decide whether to accept Google's offer and close the competition case.

Google has been busy grappling with a wave tide of antitrust investigations in Europe. The U.K. offer comes days after it resolved another case involving its digital ad business, when it agreed to pay a 220 million euro ($268 million) to France's antitrust watchdog for abusing its "dominant" position in online advertising.

Google Logo in Shanghai, China
In this Monday, Nov. 5, 2018 file photo, a woman walks past the logo for Google at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. Google has on Friday, June 11, 2021 promised to give U.K. regulators a role overseeing its plan to phase out existing ad-tracking technology from its Chrome browser as the tech giant seeks to resolve a competition investigation. AP Photo/Ng Han Guan