Google is currently rolling out the developer trial version of its Federated Learning of Cohorts technology – also known as FLoC or, in the world of third-party cookies, Death Itself. FLoC replaces third-party cookies which collect data based on the behavior of groups of internet users (called cohorts) in order to generate relevant online advertisements, rather than tracking an individual’s browsing history.
“With FLoC, your browser determines which cohort most closely matches your recent web browsing history, grouping you together with thousands of other people with similar browsing histories,” Google Privacy Sandbox Product Manager Marshall Vale wrote. “The Cohort ID number is the only thing provided at a site’s request. This is different from third-party cookies, which allow companies to track you individually across different sites.”
The trial is live for a small percentage of users in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines and the United States. Anyone who has blocked third-party cookies in the current version of Chrome will not have access to the initial test.
It’s all part of Google’s plan to get rid of third-party cookies in Chrome and end the sale of ads based on individual web activity. Ad sales are the foundation of Google’s empire and are also the subject of many antitrust lawsuits targeting the business.
Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton updated his multi-state complaint against Google to discuss the new FLoC system, arguing that this does not eliminate the antitrust issues at the heart of the complaint. A total of 15 states joined in this particular trial and the Ministry of Justice can throw his weight behind him too. Regulators in UK are also studying Google’s new tracking system, fearing it could further concentrate data and ad revenue in Google’s coffers.
“[Google] could undermine the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising, thereby strengthening Google’s market power, ”the UK Competition and Markets Authority said in a recent study.
In response to this review, Google publicly played on the privacy benefits of FLoC without reference to the potential power imbalance built into such a system.
“We are partnering with industry through Privacy Sandbox on privacy-preserving alternatives to third-party cookies that support the free and open Internet,” Google said in mid-March. “And as we said, we will not replace third-party cookies with alternative methods of tracking individual people across the web.”