Google is starting to test FLoC to replace cookies: what it means for privacy

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Google has announced that it is implementing Federal Cohort Training (FLoC), which is an essential part of its Chrome privacy Sandbox project. FLoC is advertised as an alternative to third-party cookies for targeting ads. It runs locally and categorizes your browsing behavior, which groups like-minded people in the cohort. This will allow users to hide in crowds of people with similar interests and search history. The cohort allows advertisers to direct people to their interests while maintaining the privacy of individual users.

Through a post in your blog for web developers, Google announced that it will soon stop websites from registering third-party cookies. The software giant is currently testing FLoC in India, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines and the United States. Google plans to launch the trial in other regions eventually. Google does not test FLoC in the EU due to the General Data Protection Regulations (it is not yet clear whether FLoC identifiers should be considered personal data according to the rules). Marshall Vale, product manager for Sandbox, said in tweeting that it only tests the FLoC version in selected markets to limit the amount of initial testing, and the team that performs FLoC testing is “100 percent committed to Sandbox for privacy in Europe.”

Vale described in detail the operation of FLoC by a blog post saying that it is “a new approach to interest-based advertising that both improves privacy and gives publishers the tools they need for viable advertising business models.” The new system will group users with similar interests, giving advertisers the advantage of targeted marketing, as well as providing sufficient privacy for users. Users will become part of a larger group called cohorts, which are determined by similarities in browsing history.

FLoC will also not share users browsing data with Google or another advertiser. The cohort is identified by a special number (FLoC ID), which is the only thing shared when requested by a website. Chrome will also not share cohorts that it considers sensitive. So, if cohort users have large access to websites with sensitive content such as religious or political content, FLoC will not share such data with advertisers.

The search giant will also allow users to voluntarily participate in FLoC trials, just like any other Sandbox for privacy tests. Google also notes that its own inventory will have the same access to FLoC IDs as third-party advertisers. A report Google’s blog in January of this year detailed how “through the FLoC system,” advertisers can expect to see at least 95 percent of the conversions of dollars spent compared to cookie-based ads. ” In January 2020, Google announced it will remove third party web tracking for cookies Chrome browser. Safari announced in March 2020 that the browser will soon blocking third party cookies through its Intelligent Tracking System (ITP). Firefox also followed by repressive superhooks since the announcement of its update for Firefox 85 in January 2021.

Most browsers, with the exception of Chrome, have completely blocked third-party ads or cookies. Instead, Chrome is looking for ways to make users a little less vulnerable to FLoC cookies. Google cannot completely block cookies in its browser, as this is the main source of revenue for the company. Google holds most of the market share through Chrome in the browser spectrum and Google Ad Sense in the advertising spectrum. FLoC may simply become the standard for preventing third-party cookies in the future.

Later this year, Google’s plan to block cookies was followed fears from the US Department of Justice. The plan can make it much harder for smaller competitors to lose the data collection tool.

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