The tech world was rocked by Google’s recent announcement regarding its internet browser, Chrome. Over the next few years, the search engine company will begin banning third-party cookies from its platform. The change will prohibit companies unaffiliated with Google from tracking the data of Chrome users.
Google heralded the move as a victory for internet privacy, declaring, “Users are demanding greater privacy… and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet those demands.”
Unfortunately for Google’s public relations team, reality doesn’t quite conform to their slick messaging strategy. The tech giant may claim that their rationale for eliminating third-party cookies is an altruistic pursuit of security and privacy, but the truth is something different entirely. Google is merely looking to strengthen its monopoly power over the tech industry. And it is using the guise of virtue to cloak its ambitions.
The troubling reality lying behind Google’s claims of virtue is hiding in plain sight. Google is banning solely third-party cookies. In other words, Google is banning its competition.
Suspiciously, Google’s own “first-party” cookies will remain wholly unaffected by the policy change. If the company is truly concerned about the privacy of its users’ data, the search engine would address security concerns surrounding its proprietary cookies as well. But that’s not what Google is doing.
Instead, Google is merely clearing the path of any potential competition, ensuring it has sole control over users’ personal information. As various publishers and advertisers have argued, Google’s decision to rid its internet browser of third-party cookies merely makes its own ad business even stronger. Chrome already retains over 63 percent of the browser market share, By forcing third-party cookies off its web platform, Google practically guarantees itself exclusive rights to almost two-thirds of user data.
That data is the lifeblood of Google’s business model as it provides the tech giant with the ability to target advertisements. The more information it has, the more power it accrues. It only makes sense that Google would make sure it alone has access to users’ personal search data. Doing so provides the company with crucial leverage over potential advertisers, since Google’s data analytics are the only option available.
There’s a word for that: “monopolization.”
Regrettably, Google has a storied history of uncompetitive behavior. This most recent attempt to monopolize cookie data is just the tip of the iceberg. The search engine giant is currently being investigated by 50 state attorneys general for alleged anti-competitive activities. Specifically, the AGs are determining whether Google actively suppressed potential competition during its rise to become the dominant player in the market for consumer data and ad marketing. Sound familiar?
Moreover, the company’s guise of protecting privacy is laughable, given Google’s recent misbehavior. On January 8, Google settled a $7.5 million-dollar class-action lawsuit over the company’s Google+ social media platform. According to the suit, Google exposed a substantial amount of users’ personal data to third-party platforms. Everything from the users’ names, genders, email addresses, and addresses were left unprotected. Clearly, that doesn’t sound like a company that highly values privacy.
If their previous behavior is any indication, Google doesn’t really care too much about the security of its users’ data. Instead, Google prioritizes the accrual of power, and the company even willing to stretch the limits of legality in order to achieve it.
The company’s push to eliminate third- party cookies from Chrome is just more of the same: a power play disguised under the veneer of moral virtue. Google apparently thinks that if it pretends to be acting for the greater good, everyone will look the other way as it consolidates its monopoly power. But, at least in this instance, the tech giant is wrong, and it must be held accountable.
Drew Johnson is the former national director of Protect Internet Freedom and currently serves as a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, where he researches economic and tech policy issues.