Google's Efforts To Be Better About Your Privacy, Now Attacked As An Antitrust Violation

from the wait,-what? dept

We've talked a lot in the past about how almost no one seems to actually understand privacy, and that leads to a lot of bad policy-making, including policy-making that impacts the 1st Amendment and other concepts that we hold sacred. Sometimes, it creates truly bizarre scenarios, like the arguments being made by Texas's Attorney General in the latest amended antitrust complaint against Google.

As you'll likely recall, back in December, Texas's Attorney General Ken Paxton -- along with nine other states -- filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google. There were some bits in the laws that suggested some potentially serious claims, but the key pars were heavily redacted. Of the non-redacted parts there were really embarrassing mistakes, including claiming that Facebook allowing WhatsApp users to backup their accounts to Google Drive was giving Google a "backdoor" into WhatsApp communications.

That makes the latest amended complaint even more bizarre. It attacks Google for doing more to protect its users' privacy. As you remember, a couple weeks ago, Google noted that as it got rid of 3rd party cookies in Chrome, it wasn't going to replace it with some other form of tracking. This is, clearly, good for privacy. It is, also, good for Google, since it's better positioned to weather a changing ad market that doesn't rely on 3rd party cookies tracking you everywhere you go.

So the new amended complaint takes a move that is clearly good for everyone's privacy and whines that this is an antitrust violation.

Google’s new scheme is, in essence, to wall off the entire portion of the internet that consumers access through Google’s Chrome browser. By the end of 2022, Google plans to modify Chrome to block publishers and advertisers from using the type of cookies they rely on to track users and target ads. Then, Google, through Chrome, will offer publishers and advertisers new and alternative tracking mechanisms outlined in a set of proposals that Google has dubbed Privacy Sandbox. Overall, the changes are anticompetitive because they raise barriers to entry and exclude competition in the exchange and ad buying tool markets, which will further expand the already dominant market power of Google’s advertising businesses.

Google’s new scheme is anticompetitive because it coerces advertisers to shift spend from smaller media properties like The Dallas Morning News to large dominant properties like Google’s. Chrome is set to disable the primary cookie-tracking technology almost all non-Google publishers currently use to track users and target ads. A small advertiser like a local car dealership will no longer be able to use cookies to advertise across The Dallas Morning News and The Austin Chronicle. But the same advertiser will be able to continue tracking and targeting ads across Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail—amongst the largest sites in the world—because Google relies on a different type of cookie (which Chrome will not block) and alternative tracking technologies to offer such cross-site tracking to advertisers. By blocking the type of cookies publishers like The Dallas Morning News currently use to sell ads, but not blocking the other technologies that Google relies on for cross-site tracking, Google’s plan will pressure advertisers to shift to Google money otherwise spent on smaller publishers.

No good deed goes unpunished. Yes, it is true that Google's move will undoubtedly harm companies that rely on intrusive 3rd party cookies. But that's good for privacy. And it's funny that this is coming in the very same antitrust lawsuit that whines that one of Google's antitrust problems is that it snoops on WhatsAspp (when it doesn't). Here, Google is clearly taking a stand -- the same stand that Mozilla and Apple took earlier -- against creepy and problematic 3rd party cookies, and it gets spun by Texas's AG as an attack on "small advertisers."

I'm kind of curious what the AGs bringing this lawsuit are aiming for here. Yes, I get that the entire point is just to attack Google, but if they win, do they want to require Google to be worse about privacy? Because that's ridiculous.

The complaint does try to argue that Google's Privacy Sandbox isn't really about privacy, and that it's all a "ruse." It even (selectively) quotes an old EFF blog post that rightly calls out some of the problems with the Privacy Sandbox approach. But the EFF blog post is not -- as the amended complaint implies -- suggesting that Google should allow more 3rd party cookie tracking. It's just calling out some of the other problems of the Privacy Sandbox. No one is arguing that Privacy Sandbox is a panacea for privacy issues. And no one is arguing that Google is magically all "good" for online privacy -- indeed there are plenty of legitimate reasons to be concerned about Google's impact on privacy. But the announcement it made recently was, quite clearly, a step in the right direction for privacy, and while it may make life difficult for intrusive advertisers who rely on other methods of advertising, that's really on those advertisers to be better.

There are other things in these lawsuits that may be damning for Google and its practices. I'm still really interested in learning about the redacted sections, which might reveal actual bad practices. But, it's not encouraging at all that Texas's AG is taking a step towards better protection of user privacy as some sort of evidence of nefariousness -- and doing so in the very same complaint arguing that part of the reason Google violates antitrust laws is that it "violates the privacy" of Android users (via the WhatsApp backup feature).

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 3rd party cookies, advertising, antitrust, ken paxton, privacy, privacy sandbox, texas, tracking
Companies: google


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Who Here's A Horton, 16 Mar 2021 @ 11:15am

    NO, as even YOU wrote, "3rd party cookies" are irrelevant.

    As you remember, a couple weeks ago, Google noted that as it got rid of 3rd party cookies in Chrome, it wasn't going to replace it with some other form of tracking. This is, clearly, good for privacy.

    You now trot that irrelevance out as if GOOGLE is actually reversing its very "business model".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Who Here's A Horton, 16 Mar 2021 @ 11:16am

    Re: NO, as even YOU wrote, "3rd party cookies" are irr

    You have NO shame, Maz. At your ridiculous "think tank" you even STATE that you're a SHILL "sponsored" by GOOGLE and other Silicon Valley surveillance capitalists, but never mention it here.

    https://copia.is/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sponsors.png

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    PaulT (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 11:25am

    Re: Re: NO, as even YOU wrote, "3rd party cookies" are

    I'll ask again what influence you think that the MacArthur Foundation have on this site, since you repeatedly provide that freely available piece of information as proof of something.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 11:30am

    Yes, I get that the entire point is just to attack Google,

    Which is why they will interpret everything that Googles does as being evidence of wrong doing, and create a reason as why it is wrong doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 11:46am

    Re: Re: NO, as even YOU wrote, "3rd party cookies" are

    If this web site is such a shill for Google, how do you explain this? And this? And this and this and this?

    I thought this website can say nothing bad about Google! C'mon, Mike, you're slacking off! Get back to work! /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:13pm

    Who pays you to be an ignorant motherfucker?

    I bet it’s the Trump Foundation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:28pm

    Re:

    I mean, as I understand his history if it was Trump it would less be paying and more a pinky-promise to pay at some point in the future that definitely won't be reneged on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:41pm

    Re: NO, as even YOU wrote, "3rd party cookies" are irrelevant.

    Prove its nefarious
    Your opinion means nothing
    And that’s all republicans have.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:49pm

    It is all pretense from liars

    The end goal is to demand control personally "or else" and they are at the "or else" phase. They cannot be appeased as they don't actually care about privacy or antitrust. If they were impervious to attack on either issue then they would choose a different pretense rather than a different target.

    Privacy as a complaint from Attorneys General is laughable given stingrays and parallel reconstruction as widely proliferated norms and strenous objections to limits to general warrants. Antitrust is likewise utterly absurd - there isn't so much as a whisper that the Mouse has had enough mergers and acquisitions, they saw nothing wrong with the T-Mobile-Sprint mergerer or the existence of Comcast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:54pm

    Re:

    I think by "reason", you mean "pretext".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:56pm

    A punching bag can do no right

    This was always first and foremost a PR stunt for the gullible, but for Google to take a step that will help customer privacy only to have that used against them just highlights this even more. There are certainly valid reasons to be concerned and critical of Google but like similar efforts this was never about helping or protecting the public, it's merely about the spectacle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Upstream (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 12:57pm

    Lawyers

    Many (most?) lawyers spend a great deal of their educational and professional years perfecting the art of taking any act, statement, or circumstance and turning it into both incontrovertible evidence of "A," and also incontrovertible evidence of "Not A."

    This often starts in high school or even junior high debate clubs, and is a constant theme from then on. This is the root of the advice "Never talk to the police (or anyone else in law enforcement." The lawyers, particularly prosecutors, can turn literally anything you say into evidence of guilt of some crime or other.

    So it comes as no surprise that to a prosecutor:

    Google does something bad -> Google is guilty of crime X.
    Google does something good -> Google is guilty of crime X.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:17pm

    Re: Re:

    Point taken :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 1:18pm

    So the new amended complaint takes a move that is clearly good for everyone's privacy and whines that this is an antitrust violation.

    Well, it does look kind of bad for Google to say for years, third-party cookies are necessary for advertising, people shouldn't have any privacy concerns about it, etc. And then as soon as they no longer need it themselves, burn that bridge for all other advertisers. When you put yourself in the position of both invading privacy and protecting it, and have this kind of market power, it's almost guaranteed to be a no-win scenario. Perhaps they could've tried to work with other browser vendors to create an anti-tracking standard, and then implement it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Mar 2021 @ 2:18pm

    You mean...

    If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

    -- Cardinal Richelieu

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 16 Mar 2021 @ 10:47pm

    Re:

    Well, it does look kind of bad for Google to say for years, third-party cookies are necessary for advertising, people shouldn't have any privacy concerns about it, etc. And then as soon as they no longer need it themselves, burn that bridge for all other advertisers.

    Hmm. Google gave everyone a two year time line to look for alternative solutions...

    Not exactly bridge burning.

    Perhaps they could've tried to work with other browser vendors to create an anti-tracking standard, and then implement it.

    That... is what they were doing... though not everyone has bought into Google's standard, which is fine. It's why competition is good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 8:54am

    Re:

    "Who pays you to be an ignorant motherfucker?"

    I've been asking that for years. But apparently Baghdad Bob is a volunteer clown, trotting into the ring, dropping his pants, and making a public performance of shitting his linen for no remuneration what so ever.

    If anyone actually wanted to see that it would be laudable. I'm not aware of anyone who does but keep hoping there'll be someone interested enough in Baghdad Bob's repetitive scat play to take him off our hands already.

    I mean, apparently Baghdad Bob has a beef with the Copia institute and the MacArthur Foundation, because...
    ...oh, I get it now. From the MacArthur Foundations homepage;

    "...Working to address over-incarceration and racial and ethnic disparities by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails"

    No wonder Baghdad Bob, strident and frequent advocate of prison rape, has been losing his shit. Masnick's being aided by a foundation dedicated to good jurisprudens and proportionality in law. Especially for brown people. The horror.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Mar 2021 @ 9:02am

    Re: Re: NO, as even YOU wrote, "3rd party cookies" are irrelevan

    Baghdad Bob is hardly a republican. I mean, yes, he no doubt would have voted Trump, if he could find a voting booth and his minders let him out...but I doubt there's been a party aligned with his mindset since Draco of Athens died.

    Though there have been hints he might look favorably on the National Socialist Movement given the trend of his discourse in any dispute involving law enforcement, brown people, and ze jews.

    I guess that much like Poe's Law, reduction ad Hitlerum is dead as a concept these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Joe K, 18 Mar 2021 @ 4:06pm

    Re: Re:

    What signs indicate that the web browser market is competitive? As an aid to understanding, could you name a few of its neighbors on the competition-spectrum? Like, one market that is significantly less competitive than the browser market and one market more so?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    PaulT (profile), 19 Mar 2021 @ 1:10am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Define "browser market". There's plenty of competition with browsers, although some of the competitors to Chrome use the same open sourced backend. How you define the browser market will define whether you are looking at Chrome as a complete package or if you're going to lump in the likes of Edge, Opera and Vivaldi, which use the open source Chromium backend as Chrome but are otherwise unrelated, which skews the figures somewhat.

    Chrome does have a majority position, but there's nothing to stop people switching whenever they want, and many do every day. That sounds like competition to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.