How FLoC works and what questions does Google’s alternative to cookies raise that promises to revolutionize online advertising
Google wants delete cookies, but their main business is online advertising. The alternative they present to us is FLoC (‘Federated Learning of Cohorts’), a system based on tokens that allows to identify the preferences of the users, and, as they assure, to maintain the privacy.
“Users should not have to accept being tracked on the web to benefit from relevant advertising,” explains Google. FLoC is an API focused on privacy and Open Source. A solution that is already being tested in the new versions of Chrome and to which the world of online advertising will have to adapt if you want to continue working with Google.
They are not the only ones wanting to reinvent the cookie system. Firefox already blocks tracking Y Apple with Safari has recently been updated to block third-party cookies. In Google Chrome it will not be until 2022 when support will end. At which point FLoC should be ready.
Here we explain how FLoC works, what challenges it has ahead and how far it is a step forward in privacy or is it a “terrible idea”, What ha expresado la Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
What is the alternative to Google cookies based on?
FLoC is based on assigning each user to a cohort. To a group of thousands of other users with whom interests are shared. In this way, by grouping the interests, the specific data about the user is not specified and their privacy is maintained, as described by Google. A categorization by groups that would remain in the browser, where only the ID of the cohort would be sent to the algorithm.
According to Google first tests, your FLoC system is 95% effective for advertisers when correctly identifying particular interests and making conversions. The idea of FLoC is to obtain a system diffuse enough to complicate the identification of personal data but concrete enough so that advertisers can send their ads appropriately.
Available from Chrome 90
The new system will be available publicly from April with the launch of Google Chrome 90, where users will be able to see the first controls to adjust their privacy regarding the tracking of interests. Initially, according to Google, the user can only activate or deactivate FLoC and there will be no further customization, but the goal is that the user can progressively have better control.
At stake is a business worth billions of euros. Cookies have served many advertisers for years, who must now change the way they work, because Google has already warned that “there is no going back”.
At the moment it will only be available for testing and It will not be until the second quarter of 2021 when Google begins to offer it to advertisers. Google has already initiated contacts with the industry to begin to see results of this project and obtain more data on conversion rates. Some data
A change that can affect thousands of companies
Changing the cookie system can revolutionize the online advertising market from top to bottom. “Google’s proposals are bad for independent media owners, bad for independent ad technology and bad for advertisers. The people who will be most affected by this will be the smaller local publishers and independent companies.“, they assure from the Marketers for an Open Web platform.
“It can be clearly seen that the whole process is going to be controlled by Google and that will change the entire digital advertising system”, pointed out to Engadget Inés Arranz, professor of Advertising and Digital Marketing at the University of Nebrija.
FLoC it is not a proposal supported by W3C, although from Google they explain that they have an open conversation with the World Wide Web Consortium, in charge of standards on the web.
To the extent that FLoC can improve privacy regarding cookies, it could also create new risks such as discrimination or the possibility of examining how our interests change over the weeks.
As explained by EFF, FLoC “will avoid privacy risks from third-party cookies, but will create new ones in the process. It can also increase many of the worst problems related to behavioral ads, such as discrimination or predatory practices. ”
The organization in defense of internet freedoms points out that Google still needs to better specify how the ID of each cohort will be generated, how many there will be and who will have access to this information. Yes it is specified that each week the cohorts will be recalculated based on browsing data from the previous week, which will make it less useful in the long run but more powerful when it comes to understanding how user behavior changes over time.
Beyond the size of the groups themselves, which could be very vague or too specific, Google is working to prevent some of the cohorts generated from being based on sensitive categories like race or sexual orientation.
Initially it will not be tested in Europe because it does not comply with the Data Protection Regulation
During a meeting of the Group of Advertising Companies for the Improvement of the Web, Michael Kleber, Google engineer, has recognized that for the moment the Privacy Sandbox project, which includes FLoC, will not be tested in Europe as it is not adapted to the European General Data Protection Regulation (RGPD).
From Google they have not been slow to clarify these statements and explain that “we are 100% committed to Privacy Sandbox in Europe and we are working to carry out the tests as soon as possible”.
It’s the start. We are working to begin testing in Europe as soon as possible. We are 100% committed to the Privacy Sandbox in Europe.
— Marshall Vale (@marshallvale) March 23, 2021
According to Google sources point to Engadget, FLoC is currently under development but they are in talks with regulators. “Answers to questions about compliance with specific laws and obligations will ultimately activate the technical functioning of the Sandbox proposals, which are still being developed,” they add.
Among the doubts raised by experts such as Alisson Schiff, editor of AdExchanger, is that Google must reflect and obtain permission for the processing of personal data to generate the cohort and that in this system It is not clear who will be the body that will serve to control these data or generate these groups.