Google recently announced that they were turning off support for third-party cookies on the Chrome browser. This move, however, does not mean Google is going to stop tracking you. Google will instead replace third-party cookies with its own Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC)
What is FLoC?
Based on machine learning, FLoC is a proposed browser standard that Google says will enable “interest-based advertising on the web” without letting advertisers know your identity. Instead, you’ll be associated with a “cohort,” a group of users sufficiently large enough to make you at least semi-anonymous to the companies targeting you.
Chrome browsers will use algorithms -“Federated Learning”- to create a very large number of groups of people that share the same qualities and interests. Each person’s individual browsing history will be kept private and never shared with anybody, but the browser will look at the history and then assign a user to one of those cohorts.
FLoC vs Browsers
DuckDuckGo has already announced plans to block any FLoC activity in Chrome.
DuckDuckGo finds it especially concerning that getting tracked via FLoC is not optional – all Chrome users have automatically been opted into it.
“We’re disappointed that, despite the many publicly voiced concerns with FLoC that have not yet been addressed, Google is already forcing FLoC upon users without explicitly asking them to opt in. We’re nevertheless committed and will continue to do our part to deliver on our vision of raising the standard of trust online.”
The search engine released a Chrome extension to block FLoC tracking, comparing it to “walking into a store where they already know all about you”.
Brave, a Chromium-based browser, has also removed FLoC,
The worst aspect of FLoC is that it materially harms user privacy, under the guise of being privacy-friendly.
In the face of these trends, it is disappointing to see Google, instead of taking the present opportunity to help design and build a user-first, privacy-first Web, proposing and immediately shipping in Chrome a set of smaller, ad-tech-conserving changes, which explicitly prioritize maintaining the structure of the Web advertising ecosystem as Google sees it.
The Chromium-based Vivaldi browser has also emoved FLoC calling it a “dangerous step that harms user privacy”.
At Vivaldi, we stand up for the privacy rights of our users. We do not approve tracking and profiling, in any disguise. We certainly would not allow our products to build up local tracking profiles.
It presents FLoC as part of a set of so-called ‘privacy’ technologies, but let’s remove the pretence here; FLoC is a privacy-invasive tracking technology.
Google says simply blocking third-party cookies will lead to very problematic new solutions from the ad tech industry hence the need for FLoC In order to hopefully forestall even worse replacements. Here’s how Google puts it in its blog post:
When other browsers started blocking third-party cookies by default, we were excited about the direction, but worried about the immediate impact. Excited because we absolutely need a more private web, and we know third-party cookies aren’t the long-term answer. Worried because today many publishers rely on cookie-based advertising to support their content efforts, and we had seen that cookie blocking was already spawning privacy-invasive workarounds (such as fingerprinting) that were even worse for user privacy. Overall, we felt that blocking third-party cookies outright without viable alternatives for the ecosystem was irresponsible, and even harmful, to the free and open web we all enjoy.