SAN FRANCISCO: Google’s plan to block a popular web tracking tool called “ cookies ” worries U.S. Department of Justice researchers who have asked ad industry executives if the search giant’s move will hit its smaller rivals, say people who confessed are with the situation.

Alphabet’s Google announced a year ago that it would ban some cookies in its Chrome browser to increase user privacy. In the past two months, Google has released more details, leading online ad rivals to complain about the loss of the data collection tool.

Questions from Justice Department researchers examined how Chrome’s policies, including those regarding cookies, are affecting the advertising and news industry, four people said.

Researchers wonder whether Google is using Chrome, which has a 60 percent share of the global market, to reduce competition by preventing rival ad companies from tracking users through cookies, while leaving loopholes to collect data with cookies, analytics tools and others sources, depending on the sources. additional.

The latest talks, unreported, are a sign that officials are following Google’s projects in the global online advertising market, where the company and No. 2 Facebook Inc control about 54 percent of revenues.

Consulting advertisements cannot give rise to legal action.

Executives from more than a dozen companies from various industries have spoken with researchers at the Justice Department, one source said.

The government has been investigating Google’s search and advertising activities since mid-2019 and sued Google last October for allegedly using anti-competitive tactics to maintain its search engine dominance. He has continued to research Google’s advertising practices.

Investigators have also asked rivals whether they found behavior similar to or worse than the ad-focused allegations that attorneys general in Texas and other states filed against Google in a lawsuit last December, the people said.

The Justice Department declined to comment on this story.

Google defended its moves in the advertising business, saying it helped businesses grow and protected users’ privacy from exploitative practices.

A spokeswoman pointed to an alternative to cookies that Google is leading, called Privacy Sandbox, that allows companies to target consumer groups without identifying individuals, among other proposals. “We will not replace third-party cookies with alternative methods of tracking individual people on the Internet,” he said.

If the Justice Department files a lawsuit for conduct related to the ads, it can file a new lawsuit or join the Texas case, one source said. But antitrust litigation experts said the department still had time to adjust the existing complaint and focus on ad technology.

Texas amended its complaint Tuesday to claim, among other things, that the upcoming changes to Chrome are “anti-competitive because they raise barriers to entry and exclude competition” in web advertising.


Google has restricted the collection and use of data for several of its services. The changes to Chrome affect ad technology companies that use cookies to collect people’s viewing history and target more relevant ads to them.

“We don’t believe tracking people on the Internet will stand the test of time as privacy concerns grow,” said Jerry Dischler, a Google vice president who oversees ad services at an industry conference last week. .

But smaller rivals reject the privacy justification used by big companies like Google and Apple Inc to restrict tracking, because they would continue to collect valuable data and potentially bring in even more ad revenue.

“There is an armament of privacy to justify business decisions that consolidate the strength of your business and put the broader market at a disadvantage,” said Chad Engelgau, CEO of the Acxiom ad data unit of Interpublic Group of Companies Inc.

The French competition authority temporarily allowed Apple on Wednesday to proceed with new tracking limits, saying privacy protections prevailed over concerns about c