Google faces probe over plan to overhaul its ad data system

A formal investigation has been launched into Google’s proposals to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine. (Reuters/File)
A formal investigation has been launched into Google’s proposals to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 09 January 2021

Google faces probe over plan to overhaul its ad data system

Google faces probe over plan to overhaul its ad data system
  • British authorities launch investigation after receiving a complaint from ‘Marketers for an Open Web’ group

LONDON: Britain’s competition watchdog said Friday it launched an investigation into Google’s plan to overhaul its ad data system over worries it could leave even less room for rivals in the online ad industry.

The Competition and Markets Authority said it opened a formal investigation into Google’s proposals to remove so-called third-party cookies from its popular Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine.
Cookies are small pieces of text kept on devices to keep track of user information such as the login name. They’re used to help businesses more effectively target advertising and fund free online content such as newspapers, but they can also be used to track users across the Internet.
Google has proposed replacing third-party cookies with its own tools, as part of a “digital sandbox” set to be rolled out in 2022. But the watchdog said the changes could hurt publishers’ ability to make money as well as undermine digital ad competition, entrenching Google’s market power.
“Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals will potentially have a very significant impact on publishers like newspapers, and the digital advertising market. But there are also privacy concerns to consider,” the CMA’s CEO Andrea Coscelli said in a statement. Regulators will work with the UK’s privacy commissioner and engage with Google during the investigation, he said.
Chrome is the world’s dominant web browser, and many others like Microsoft’s Edge are based on Google’s Chromium technology. In a market study last year, the CMA found that Google controls more than 90 percent of the UK’s 7.3 billion-pound ($10 billion) search advertising market.
Google stressed that it hasn’t made any changes yet and it’s collaborating with the industry to come up with the best solution. The company pointed out that other browsers such as Safari and Firefox have already started blocking third-party cookies but also acknowledged that such moves hurt the ability of content creators, newsrooms, web developers and videographers to make money.
“Creating a more private web, while also enabling the publishers and advertisers who support the free and open Internet, requires the industry to make major changes to the way digital advertising works,” the company said.
The CMA opened its investigation after receiving a complaint from an industry lobbying group, Marketers for an Open Web, which has said the changes would create a “walled garden” owned by Google and deny publishers access to cookies they use to sell digital ads, crimping their revenues by up to two-thirds.
“Providing more directly identifiable, personal information to Google does not protect anyone’s privacy,” said the group, made up of technology and publishing companies. “We believe that the CMA’s investigation will confirm this and save the web for future generations.”


Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation
Updated 25 January 2021

Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation

Saudi Arabia meeting water scarcity challenge with innovation
  • Kingdom is third biggest consumer per capita in the world, after US and Canada

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s National Water Co. (NWC) this month signed a $5.36 million two-year contract with a French utilities company to reduce the amount of water lost during the Kingdom’s water production process, known as non-revenue water in the industry.

This is a positive step forward, as a report released late last year by global consultancy firm Oliver Wyman found that while water usage is rising, supply is diminishing. The study estimated that 25 percent of the world’s population lives in areas that suffer extremely high water stress, and by 2050 that portion of the population will more than double.

“With water resources becoming increasingly scarce globally, the Middle East region is addressing the critical issues, with governments increasingly adopting new strategies for balancing their scarce water resources and growing demand for fresh water,” said Bruno Sousa, a partner in the Energy Practice at Oliver Wyman. “This has led some countries in the Middle East to turn to options such as desalination and
treatment, and reuse of wast water,” he added.

Saudi Arabia is the third biggest consumer of water per capita in the world, after the US and Canada. The Kingdom has implemented a series of measures to rationalize water consumption as part of its Vision 2030 program, with the aim of reducing consumption by 24 percent in 2021 and by up to 43 percent by the end of the decade.

The Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has developed a unified water sector reference framework that includes a comprehensive water strategy, which integrates national water sector trends, policies, legislation and practices with the main objective of addressing these key challenges and restructuring the sector. Dr. Ibrahim Aref, director of the rehabilitation of agricultural terraces initiative at the ministry, told Arab News that most of the Arabian Peninsula’s water resources comes from rainfall. Yet, rainfall in the Kingdom, especially in the center of the Arabian Peninsula, is very weak compared to any other place in the world, thus causing water scarcity.

New technology has been developed over the years to minimize the environmental impact of desalination.

Bruno Sousa

Aref pointed out that even though the Arabian Peninsula, in general, experiences dry seasons that last for two, four or up to seven years, the Kingdom has been blessed with a strong economy and therefore has been able to work on many solutions that might be unusual elsewhere in the world, such as desalination.

According to Oliver Wyman’s Sousa, desalination can be achieved through two main technologies: Thermal and electric.

He told Arab News that thermal technology consists of heating water and collecting the resulting evaporated pure water. “This is a very energy-intensive process, requiring both electricity and thermal energy to heat the water. As part of the process, electricity is also generated that can be injected into the electric grid.

“Electric consists mainly in reverse osmosis, where water is forced through membranes that remove salt ... it is also an energy-intensive process, but only requires electricity to run,” he said.

“Although thermal desalination is still used, reverse osmosis is the mainstream technology, adopted mainly because of lower costs (including with energy) and a higher rate of potable water conversion from seawater,” he added. Sousa said that new technology has been developed over the years to minimize the environmental impact of desalination. Spanish firm Acciona last year completed the construction of the Al-Khobar I desalination plant in Saudi Arabia, and since Dec. 26, it has produced 210,000 cubic meters of drinking water per day, which will supply a population of 350,000. It is one of the biggest desalination plants in Saudi Arabia in terms of capacity.

Desalination is not the only way the Kingdom is looking to address the issue of water shortages. One of the largest programs being undertaken by the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture is the rehabilitation of agricultural terraces in the southwest of the Kingdom.

The project aims to increase the efficiency of water use for agricultural purposes and to rely on renewable sources that contribute to food security, rural development and increased productivity of strategic crops.