Google recently made the almost shocking announcement that it would not only eliminate support for third-party cookies in Chrome, but would also not build anything to replace those cookies. That’s a pretty big promise, considering how these cookies are used for advertising purposes, Google’s biggest business. Naturally, Google has a solution to this situation that it is calling Federated Cohort Learning or FLoC, now available to some Chrome users to test and verify that it really works as advertised.
Web browsers, including Google Chrome, have been waging a war on third-party cookies that were used for advertising purposes. While this campaign has been largely successful, Google knows that it can force some companies and advertisers to be trapped. Some have even adopted worse strategies, such as fingerprinting to circumvent these measures, putting users’ privacy at even more risk.
Google’s solution for protecting users’ privacy while giving publishers and advertisers something to profit from is federated learning, the company’s favorite machine learning strategy of late. What this essentially means is that it will use data stored on users’ devices, in this case, their Chrome browsers, in order to create anonymous user groups. These groups are called “cohorts” in this scheme and are at the heart of Google’s third-party cookie replacement.
FLoC takes each user’s browsing history and creates a group or cohort of other users with similar browsing histories. Individual data is not included in these groups, and sites will only see group IDs, not individuals. The idea is that the ads are targeted to groups of people with presumably similar interests, based on an AI’s analysis of your browsing history.
This definitely seems more privacy-friendly than cookies, but it does not address one of the biggest reservations that some fields have about this privacy sandbox that Google is proposing. As it only works in Chrome and with the implementation of Google, some advertisers and antitrust advocates fear that Google is using its market position to keep out competitors, something the tech giant denies, but has not yet addressed sufficiently.