We all know that third-party cookies of companies track their users on the internet. What about if these cookies stop tracking you? Following Google’s latest announcement, they will not support third-party cookies on Google Chrome. This action will change the way companies track their users. One might think that Google will respect privacy and shun tracking. The answer is NO! Google has proposed that they be in charge of tracking by introducing new technology. Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC is meant to replace third-party cookies.
What is FLoC?
The Federated learning of Cohorts is Google’s machine learning-based advanced technology to replace third-party cookies. FLoC will allow every browser to research how people navigate and search anonymously. Later it will group them into “cohorts”. This will alter the way of identifying the targeted audience for advertisements. Previously, third-party cookies used to show ads based on personal interest, but now FLoC will advertise based on the cohort. As per the Google statement, it will make users more anonymous and less needed information for targeted ads.
FLoC is an advancement of artificial intelligence. The federated learning of this technology works on machine learning algorithms that require fewer user data than third-party cookies. Google argues that if ad businesses and services adapt anything like this, it will protect users’ information from tracking methods.
Working Concept Behind Google’s FLoC
Based on Google’s explanation, FLoC will allow personalized advertisements with the superficial data of users, such as interest, frequently visited pages, etc. The concept behind Google’s FLoC is assigning each browser an anonymous ID and then will group these IDs into large groups. Thus, the advertiser can only access the overall patterns and will preserve user identity.
Google tries to prove this concept by saying that FLoC will establish user IDs and assign people to cohorts via an algorithm called SimHash. Google designed SimHash to help Google’s web crawlers locate nearby identical pages. However, it will not save your data on a server because this occurs on your computer. It was one of the privacy concerns users had with third-party cookies. They store massive user data collected from the browser for an indefinite period under ambiguous security measures.
The product manager at Google, Marshell Vale, ensures that FLoC will not use any user’s sensitive data. So, for example, if any user visits any religious or medical site frequently, that information will not be included in the cohort dataset. This will make tracking flexible for both advertisers and users.
Tech World Response to Google’s FLoC
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) pointed out that the third-party cookies are moving towards death, and Google wants to take its place. EFF declares Google’s FLoC as a terrible idea and potentially harmful. EFF forces everyone should reject this Google’s technology and Google’s attempt to misguide others.
Brave and DuckDuckGo suspect that Google will automatically implement FLoC without informing the Chrome users. They added that it is why they already have blocked Google’s FLoC on their desktops, as it will harm the user’s privacy and will show creepy advertisements.
The CEO and co-founder of Brave, Brendon Eich, and the senior privacy researcher, Peter Synder, explained in their blog that Google is acting privacy-friendly. Still, it is making people less private. They added Google should first explain how Google’s FloC will determine whether the cohort is sensitive and is not using any personal information.
Amazon and Mozilla not behind FloC
One of the world’s largest platforms, Amazon is blocking Google’s FLoC and added code to its digital properties. The reason for being a hindrance to FLoC’s success is protecting its intellectual property and prized data. Google is Amazon’s big competitor. Thereby, Google’s tracking policy can affect Amazon’s advertising policy.
Many other Google competitors have also commented on Google’s FLoC. For example, one of Google’s major browser competitors, Mozilla Firefox, said that the company does not plan to implement FLoC, and they are looking for other privacy policies. Microsoft also disabled Google’s FLoC policy in Microsoft Edge for now.
WordPress, another powerful company that powers over 34 percent of websites, will block FLoC. A WordPress senior contributor said they had taken no decision for the future, but they will not support Google’s FLoC.
Possible Privacy Concerns
Though Google has revived the privacy policies with FLoC, it still presents privacy concerns that cannot be ignored. Google has kept the same previous policy for advertisement and only changed the way of targeting the audience. It has raised more prominent issues, as follow:
Browser Fingerprinting is a process of extracting small information from a person’s browser and then combining them into a unique identifier. Your browsing behavior makes you unique in the crowd. So, the more unique your browsing behavior is, the easier it is to fingerprint you. As FLoC creates cohorts based on user patterns, it makes it effortless for the intruders to identify you. In the third-party cookies, the attackers have to find you among million peoples, but now they have to identify you among cohorts of a few thousand people.
FLoC will reveal your cohort data to collaborate with marketers. This information may include the login information that can help them identify you. Let us suppose you have signed in to a website with Google as a service, which implies your sensitive information, such as name and login details, will be saved already. Later, that information can be utilized to link your Cohort ID, which is meant to be anonymous. This mix-up of information can facilitate cyber-trackers to become more active.
Google has developed its tracking policy to take advantage of the misery of third-party cookies. Though Google has shown a pleasant picture of Google’s FLoC, the big names of the digital world are opposing it. The reason behind this is the controversial disguised face of Google. Google has already started the trial of FLoC on 0.5% of users located in the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Australia, Canada, and the Philippines. Over time, more clear aspects of FLoC will show up and make the market respond.