Google has long been accused of violating users’ privacy due to the way it harvests and uses information through its myriad Web services and products. Lately, Google has been singing a different tune, strengthening its privacy features and waging war against abuses made by browser cookies, specifically the third-party tracking kind. Ironically, that is now being used as evidence against the company, alleging that its upcoming “Chrome Privacy Sandbox” is hiding an advertising monopoly behind a pretext of protecting users’ privacy.
This is hardly Google’s first antitrust rodeo but it could be one of the biggest hurled against it. In addition to other lawsuits, like the one filed by the US Department of Justice, a group of 15 state attorneys general also slapped Google with another complaint late last year. That hasn’t been resolved yet, of course, but the complaint is already being updated to include Google’s unexpected announcement earlier this month.
Google revealed its Privacy Sandbox plans along with its promise not to develop alternative ways to track users once it phases out support for third-party cookies completely. Instead, it will be switching to “privacy-preserving APIs” that won’t track users but still promise to deliver results for advertisers. That is exactly what the AGs are taking issue with, accusing Google of masking its true intentions by appealing to the desire for more privacy protections.
According to the updated lawsuit, Google is using Chrome’s dominance in the web browser market to kill other, smaller advertising platforms. With the Privacy Sandbox, advertisers will be forced to rely on its new API and features in order to reach visitors, most of which would be using Chrome. It may not be replacing third-party cookies but it is, in effect, trying to be the one advertising platform that works across the Web.
Google naturally disagrees with this interpretation of the Privacy Sandbox, calling it a misunderstanding of the features. It argues that its efforts have even been welcomed not just by privacy advocates but even by its rivals in the advertising and browser markets. It also says that it will “strongly defend” itself in court against what it calls are baseless claims.