Businesses Are Still Holding Back on Testing Google’s Privacy Sandbox Solutions

Tim Cross 01 February, 2023 

According to the most recent iteration of its product timeline, Google plans to release its Privacy Sandbox tools onto the market in the second half of this year, before removing support for third-party cookies on Chrome in the back end of 2024. Currently, these Sandbox proposals are in the latter stages of their ‘pre-launch’ testing phase. The problem is, many businesses who will end up having to use these tools aren’t actually testing them.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority has been posting regular updates on the Privacy Sandbox as part of a deal agreed with Google to address concerns over the anticompetitive impacts of Google’s decision to sunset third-party cookies. And in its latest report, based on conversations both with Google and with other market participants, the CMA says many of those it spoke with say they’re holding back on testing.

The CMA says those it spoke with highlighted the cost and complexity involved as key reasons for abstaining. Those that gave feedback said that further clarity from Google on the timeline and technical parameters for testing might encourage more engagement. Some mentioned that they would want assurances that Sandbox APIs are near their final form, and have already been tested and proven effective by Google, before they would engage with testing themselves.

Communication breakdown

In essence, it seems that many are reluctant to put time and effort into testing Sandbox tools which may be tweaked (or scrapped completely) further down the line – or may not be relevant for another few years if Google further delays its deadline.

This creates an awkward chicken and egg dynamic for Google’s Sandbox. Advertisers, publishers, and ad tech companies are reluctant to spend time testing Sandbox APIs before they’re refined, but the only way to refine them is through testing by advertisers, publishers, and ad tech companies.

For its own part, Google says it has begun testing many of its Sandbox products with Google Ads including Topics API, one of the primary tools created specifically for advertising. As results come through from these internal tests, that may help convince others in the market to get involved.

But as the CMA itself says, testing by third-party companies is crucial in the current phase, especially when it comes to assessing the competition implications of the removal of third-party cookies. It’s possible that Sandbox proposals could work perfectly fine within Google’s own walls, but could throw up entirely new problems around competition and privacy when tested widely by third-parties.

The CMA says it encourages more market participants to get involved, suggesting engagement with the W3C. But there will be plenty in the industry who are sceptical about this suggestion. The w3C’s Technical Architecture Group earlier this year put out a statement saying that Topics API “appears to maintain the status quo of inappropriate surveillance on the web, and we do not want to see it proceed further”. Google promptly answered that it remains committed to topics, and will continue moving forward with it. The W3C’s influence over Google is clearly quite limited.

For the time being, none of this is necessarily a problem for Google, at least as far as the CMA’s oversight goes. The antitrust watchdog still says that Google is complying with its obligations as agreed in their deal. But the tech giant may well still be wary. There was one particularly interesting line in the CMA’s update: “The aim of the testing and trialling work is to gather evidence of the likely impact of the Privacy Sandbox tools before a final decision is taken on whether to remove third-party cookies.”  Note the word ‘whether’. For the CMA, it’s still a case of if, rather than when, Google sunsets third-party cookies and replaces them with the Privacy Sandbox.

Follow VideoWeek on Twitter and LinkedIn.


About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
Go to Top