Talk Of Google Lawsuit Around Privacy Sandbox Rumbles Through Industry

Amelia Waddington, Captify CPO, says she would not be surprised if a group of industry executives sued Google for discontinuing third-party browser cookies before its Privacy Sandbox technology successfully rolls out to advertisers.

The ad-tech company has followed the changes to Google Privacy Sandbox very closely because it builds targeting segments by collecting search data from across the internet. It uses the data to understand the relationship between what people search for, the content they consume, and the intent to help advertisers find audiences online and across other channels like TV. 

“A couple of key companies like Criteo and RTB House have been very active in the development of the technology, but it’s been difficult to follow, very technical, unless you’re an engineer,” she says. “When the CMA filled against Google based on anticompetitive elements, they stressed the need for them to share their progress and be more open, help the industry understand the changes.”  



Although Google has not broken any legally binding commitments it made to the UK’s Competition Markets Authority (CMA), which filed against Google for anticompetitive practices based on its Privacy Sandbox technology, questions must be answered and explained through testing within a specific time frame.

Not enough testing is being done, Waddington said. Even supply-side platforms (SSPs) that have spent a lot of development time see very little traffic go through their test platforms.

“I don’t see how Google will complete this implementation within the next six months,” she said. “The most recently released IAB Tech Lab report just adds more weight to the CMA’s concerns.”

There is an industry collective saying they do not have enough information to continue testing, Waddington says.

A lack of information would bring on “some type of lawsuit, even in the U.S., which would continue to hold up a full rollout,” she says, adding that a group of people from the ad industry could get together and take action against Google for removing cookies before the Privacy Sandbox technology is fully functional.

This year we started to see investments from agencies on behalf of the brands they we work with. “I don’t think you’ll see the same type of scale from system IDs that you did from cookies,” Waddington says. “A client of ours, WPP, is doing a lot of research and development around targeting based on geography.”

Captify also works with Sky Group, a satellite broadcast company in the U.K., sending them data around postal codes. Some consumers who live in specific postal codes are more likely to search for luxury vehicles or yachts, while more common searches are done for items such as children’s clothing. This process is used a lot in television, Waddington says.  

Google last week issued its response to the analysis from the IAB Tech Lab’s Privacy Sandbox task force, which analyzed 44 use cases of the APIs currently available from its Chrome team.

All three organizations — Google, CMA, and IAB Tech Lab working group —  have promised to have further collaboration.

Ken Weiner, CTO of GumGum, a digital advertising platform that uses AI to analyze the content of web pages, videos, and images, says it should not have become Google’s responsibility to replace third-party tracking cookies for the entire industry, it’s just that the company holds the majority of ad-targeting market share. 

Weiner says consumer privacy happens because the data doesn’t leave the browser, but asks whether "consumers will understand that it’s more private because it’s in the browser and not in the server."

"I don’t think people will understand that," Weiner says. "When people see the same ad is following them around the internet, they have a sense they are being tracked, even if it’s in the browser.”

Fundamental tracking of consumers, building profiles and then targeting ads based on the profiles is something people will push back on regardless of how it is solved technically, he said.

"Regulators will need to get involved at some point to say that although we have all these alternative IDs and Privacy Sandbox, it's not clear enough to consumers as to how Privacy Sandbox works," he said. "Apple, for example, implemented something for every app that asked if the user wanted to be tracked. They did that on their own accord, but what if the government required every company to do that?"

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