Google allegedly worked with Facebook to undermine Apple's push for user privacy

Business Insider US
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 17:  The Apple logo is display
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  • Facebook and Google worked together to circumvent Apple's privacy measures, 12 American state attorneys general argued in an updated legal complaint from 2020.
  • Apple's privacy tools have made it harder for other tech companies to pinpoint users for their ad auction model.
  • US regulators and other tech companies have targeted each other in a larger antitrust battle over user privacy, ad technology, and market dominance.
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Google worked with Facebook to undermine Apple's attempts to offer its users great privacy protections, 12 American state attorneys general alleged in an update to an antitrust lawsuit against the search engine.

"The companies have been working together to improve Facebook's ability to recognize users using browsers with blocked cookies, on Apple devices, and on Apple's Safari Browser," the amended complaint states. "Thereby circumventing one Big Tech company's efforts to compete by offering users better privacy."

The lawsuit was first filed by the US attorneys general in December 2020, accusing Google of engaging in market collusion, and focused on claims that Facebook and Apple had agreed to cooperate if their pact ever came under regulatory scrutiny.

The attorneys general also accused Facebook and Google of engaging in an illegal advertising deal, with the latter leveraging monopoly power over its adtech business by helping Facebook make better bids in ad auctions, which would make it easier for Facebook content to appear in more Google Ads.

According to a discussion between Facebook employees in 2019, the complaint says, the company was having trouble matching users on Apple's Safari browser. Google said Facebook's user match rates were the same as other ad auction parties, but Facebook employees noted that the search company was willing to use Javascript to help Facebook better recognize those users.

The attorneys general claimed Facebook essentially baited Google into the deal, but Google denies the lawsuit's claims.

Representatives for Google, Facebook, and Apple did not return Insider's requests for comment Sunday.

Apple in recent years has ramped up its user privacy efforts. In 2018, Apple installed privacy protection measures into its products, like Safari, which required websites to request tracking privileges from users and discard cookies if a site had not been visited in 30 days.

Recently, Apple rolled out its App Tracking Transparency tool, which prompts users to opt in or out of tracking on different applications - which largely impacted companies like Facebook. A Safari privacy report also detailed how websites track users.

The three companies have been at the centre of several US antitrust discussions, facing action from government regulators and each other. The US Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against Facebook claiming the company had monopolised power in the social networking market, but the suit was dismissed by a federal judge in June. Facebook was also reportedly preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple in regards to its App Store rules, saying Apple was stifling third-party app developers.

The US Congress also introduced five tech regulation bills in June, specifically directed at the "Big Four" - Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon. The bills would equip regulators with more methods to check tech firms from holding too much market power.

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