Privacy Sandbox isn’t really about privacy at all – it’s about control.
The open web is about to cross a point of no return. Here’s why that mustn’t happen and what we can all do about it.
Like a funky smell in a crowded elevator, some things in life are probably best left unchallenged. But a global monopoly abusing its dominant position to seize control of the open web as we know it? Well, that’s a different matter entirely.
And that’s why we, at 51Degrees, are throwing our full support behind Marketers for an Open Web (MOW): a global coalition of businesses campaigning to protect the vibrant, diverse, independent open web to which Google’s imminent plans are a real and existential threat.
MOW’s motion (in a nutshell)
Today, MOW announced a bold move: calling on the UK regulator – the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – to delay the launch of Google’s “Privacy Sandbox” technology. Why? Well, the CMA, US Department of Justice, and the European Commission are, right now, working on long-term, competitive remedies to mitigate Google’s anti-competitive dominance.
But if the Privacy Sandbox changes deploy as planned during 2021 and early 2022, these measures will be too late. Inside the walled garden of its Chrome browser, Google will effectively own the means by which media companies, advertisers and technology businesses reach their consumers. And there’ll be no way back.
MOW’s motion is about democracy – plain and simple. The temporary delay it’s requested will give the proper legal process time to run its course, making sure that the future of the internet is a fair and level playing field for all digital businesses and people who use it.
We’re supporting this move. And if you care about democracy – you should, too.
Privacy Sandbox: Addressing the elephant in the room
The heart of the problem is this: Privacy Sandbox isn’t really about privacy at all – it’s about control. Make no mistake: Google will continue to track people. All it’s doing is removing the features others need to do the same.
In fact, the proposed Privacy Sandbox changes in practice results in more personal information being used for advertising than cookies provide today. At least with pseudonymous identifiers, people can exercise their right to be forgotten as easily as clicking “reset” or browsing in incognito mode. Surrendering more directly identifiable personal information to a smaller number of US trillion-dollar oligopolies doesn’t help privacy.
In fact, most people already do without ever realizing it. That’s because Google captures consent once, at the point of installing an Android operating system on a new phone, using a search engine, or accessing a maps service – among many others. Even today, this practice is unattainable for all other companies that don’t have the same monopoly and vertical integration.
This is illegal.
But let’s leave that minor detail to one side for just a minute and dig a little deeper.
You may ask (as Google would certainly argue): isn’t such extensive vertical integration efficient? Well, yes, sure it is. It’s called the network effect. But it also smothers competition and innovation, while leading to inflated prices for customers and consumers.
Publishers that have always funded quality content and independent journalism through optimized paid advertising could earn 75% less revenue from digital. Marketers that have enjoyed unprecedented choices around how they advertise their products and services will direct their spend to Google’s walled garden where they continue to get personalized marketing, effectively abandoning the open web and the economic model that has enabled it to thrive. Consumers that have always found the news and information they wanted without barriers will now be forced to provide an email address or other personal information when visiting publishers or brands. This comparatively poor experience will drive more people into Google’s frictionless walled gardens.
For publishers inside the walled gardens, all this access is wonderful. That is, until the walls become fortified and suddenly this access comes with a hefty price tag they have little choice but to pay.
In summary, this restrictive monopoly is a bad deal for the web. Millions of smaller tech innovators like us would be hard-pressed to get started when the number of potential customers is decimated in the next five years. And by restricting choice and price for consumers, it’s a bad deal for society, too.
This is why we need regulators to act before it’s too late.
Marketers for an Open Web : reasons to take a stand
If it isn’t already obvious, this is an issue we care about at 51Degrees. We take privacy very seriously, which is why we go above and beyond to put privacy-preserving design at the heart of our products and services. We don’t think Google should dictate a vision of privacy that restricts our (or your) ability to decide how to deploy our services in a privacy preserving manner. But more than this, our company exists to make the digital world more rewarding for everyone. So, when Google’s plans threaten to do just the opposite, we can’t stand idly by.
The CMA submission by MOW is calling for is nothing radical. Anti-monopoly movements like this one have been used in democracies for hundreds of years to save industries from themselves. The real question isn’t “why are we supporting it?” but “why isn’t everyone?”.
Well, truth is, there’s an environment of fear around criticizing Google. But to not call out bad behavior is tantamount to sanctioning it. That’s why we’ve helped to create MOW: a vehicle for all companies to add their weight to this campaign – anonymously.
Like any limited company, MOW needs to have a named director. James Rosewell, CEO and Founder of 51Degrees is the man with this dubious honor. (It’s OK really, he volunteered). He says,
It’s not always easy to comprehend history unfolding in real time, but this is a moment that I believe will be talked about for years to come. I am genuinely humbled that such a phenomenal plethora of global companies has decided to stand together and back this movement of Marketers for an Open Web. James RosewellCEO, 51Degrees
This is far bigger than any one company – it’s about choosing what we want the future of digital services to look like. Are you in?
How you can support MOW
- Join MOW. Fund MOW. Add your company to the growing number of MOW supporters. Remember – it’s all anonymous. Simply contact us and we’ll put you in touch.
- Write to your regulator. Put this on their agenda. As MOW is a UK-registered company, we’re beginning with the CMA. As funding grows, we want to take action in more jurisdictions.
- Spread the word. Share this article. Talk about the issue in meetings at your company and with your suppliers and customers. Change starts with awareness.
Read more about the issues surrounding Google’s Privacy Sandbox in these articles: