A few weeks ago, Google announced that it was disabling third-party cookie support on its Chrome browser.
The new system has been the subject of much fear and speculation due to its potential to disrupt the market. Any feature Google implements will shake up the industry due to the popularity of its products – Google Chrome, for example, is said to account for around 65.3% of web browsing activity.
What is FLoC?
Federated Learning Cohorts (FLoC) is a privacy-focused solution that aims to deliver relevant ads “by bringing together large groups of people with similar interests.” Accounts are anonymized, grouped by interests, and most importantly, user information is processed on the device rather than delivered to the web.
Why is Google replacing third-party cookies for FLoC?
Over the past few years, we have seen a change in the discourse on user privacy on the web. This talk was about third-party cookies and how they allow websites to show personalized ads. In 2020, Apple announced that Safari would block all third-party cookies by default. Firefox has blocked third-party cookies by default since 2019.
The emergence of privacy-focused browsers like DuckDuckGo, Brave, and Tor is a telling sign of the new direction users are taking to protect their privacy. Clearly, the war is on against third-party cookies, and other browser vendors are in no mood to allow these trackers.
Chrome dominates the browser market with over 64% share and does not block third-party cookies by default. To break out of this unique position, in 2020 Google decided to set the record straight by stating that it would completely remove third-party cookies to protect user privacy.
Remember that Google is the market leader in online ads and has the largest ad network on the web. The company derives most of its revenue from ad sales, so it was up to Google to come up with an alternative. In summary, the need for an alternative to third-party cookies does not appear to protect user privacy. Rather, FLoC is an attempt by Google to salvage its online advertising business in the midst of a privacy war.
What are the problems with FLoC?
The fundamental problem with FLoC is that users have to choose between “old tracking” and “new tracking,” according to EFF’s Bennett Cyphers. If you really want to protect privacy, you shouldn’t have to choose between an old system and a new one. Critics kept repeating that allowing third-party cookies was the web’s biggest mistake. And today, letting it run under a different set of protocols is just as bad.
If you don’t know, third-party cookies provide fingerprinting that allows websites to track individual users across the web. Websites can find your identity on the Internet in milliseconds, just by seeing how your browser reacts to a script. Google’s reasoning is that it wants to end fingerprinting with FLoC. But critics warn that the FLoC ID can become one of the data points that third-party cookies use to identify users. In fact, they fear that the FLoC ID will help and reinforce an already powerful user tracking system on the Internet.
Overall, it seems that FLoC technology is designed specifically for advertisers, and protecting user privacy is just an afterthought. Google itself recognizes that fingerprinting FLoC identity protection is a difficult challenge and will look into the matter in the future.