German regulator welcomes Google’s ‘reject all’ cookie button plan

Fuchs now has his sights on Facebook, which has its German headquarters in Hamburg - making him competent to deal with the company. [JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock]

This article was updated with a comment by Meta. 

Google’s plan to include a “reject all” button on cookie banners after its existing policy violated EU law was welcomed by Hamburg’s top data protection official, who presented his activity report on Thursday (7 April). EURACTIV Germany reports.

Google will likely first introduce such a button in France, which has already imposed fines on the US giant and Facebook, before launching it in Germany.

“Google has told us that they now want to establish this ‘reject all’ button step by step in the European Union, Switzerland and the UK,” Hamburg’s Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information Thomas Fuchs said on Wednesday (6 April) during a presentation of his 2021 activity report.

Google’s step comes in response to massive criticism and fines. The fact that rejecting cookies requires much more effort from users than consenting to them with just one click does not meet the requirements of data protection law.

Google said that by 2023 it would give up the use of cookies from third-party providers. Instead, the company is working on Topics API, where no more data will be transferred to third-party providers or Google’s servers.

Google fined 2 mln euros in France for abusive commercial practices

A court in France fined Google two million euros on Monday (28 March) for the “significant imbalances” that the company has created with application developers through clauses deemed unfair.

Data protection issues

Fuchs wrote to Google last week asking the company to revise its cookie banner policy because it failed to comply with data protection requirements.

Pop up cookie banners can be irritating to users who generally just close them, implying consent. However, to actually reject cookie tracking, numerous selections have to be made which is far more time-consuming.

“The good news is that there is now a written commitment from Google” to make a one-click-button available by default, Fuchs also said.

French data protection authority CNIL previously fined Google €150 million and Facebook €60 million. “Rejecting cookies should be as easy as accepting them,” according to CNIL’s guiding principle.

When asked by EURACTIV, Google said it was determined to make further changes and actively cooperate with the CNIL.

According to a Meta spokesperson, Facebook has already updated the cookie consent options at the end of March 2022. “In all EU countries, it is now equally easy to reject or accept non-essential cookies,” the spokesperson told EURACTIV.

French privacy watchdog fines Facebook and Google over cookie tracking rules

France’s data protection watchdog known as the CNIL fined Facebook and Google €60 million and €150 million, respectively, on Thursday (6 December) in its latest crackdown against tech giants violating cookie tracking rules. EURACTIV France reports.

Plans to phase out cookies 

Google’s introduction of the “reject all” button is likely to be only an interim solution because the US giant already presented far-reaching plans at the end of January to altogether remove Google cookies from third-party providers by 2023.

Instead of cookies, the internet giant wants to rely on in-house tracking technology for the Google Privacy Sandbox project.

Part of the Google Privacy Sandbox project is called Topics API, whereby Chrome is supposed to record the five most important topics that correspond to the users’ interests weekly. These topics are updated every seven days, and historical data is deleted every three weeks.

Advertisers would be able to display advertising content based on the top three themes. According to Google, these preferences would be stored directly on the device, and thus no data would be transmitted to third-party providers or Google servers. Users will be able to view, change or completely disable their top themes.

The theme pool, which is currently under development, has entered a test phase. Since 31 March, developers can test Topics API in Chrome’s Canary version. In Europe, users can sign up to participate in the tests.

Google’s plans to change its privacy policy – also for Android – are feared by competitors as an exploitation of its market-dominating position. The UK Competition and Markets Authority thus launched an investigation last year to assess the possible impact of the new privacy settings on the advertising market.

As a result, Google made several commitments, like refraining from referencing itself and offering the UK’s antitrust and data protection authorities regulatory oversight. The authority accepted these commitments and will monitor their implementation.

Google to change privacy policy on Android under UK's competition oversight

Google is expanding its Privacy Sandbox to Android devices and the UK’s antitrust watchdog is set to play a crucial role in ensuring that the tech giant does not abuse its market dominance in the process.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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