Floc: This is how Google will replace third-party cookies

You know the scenario by now. You are looking for a special food for your dog and surf around for it online. Soon, ads about that particular dog food will appear on ad surfaces all over the internet, whether it’s your Facebook feed or the evening paper where you read your news.

The reason why this happens is because various advertising networks have installed cookies on the websites you visit in order to be able to follow your activity online and thus gain full knowledge of your interests, buying habits and more. The procedure with third-party cookies is as widespread as criticized, and does not go very well with the ideas of enhanced integrity and confidentiality that characterize today’s internet.

Floc will replace the third-party cake

One of the giants of the web, Google, wants to phase out these third-party cookies from Chrome, by far the most popular browser in the world. No other player is even close to shaking off Chrome’s dominance. Therefore, it is a big deal for both Google, all online advertisers and Chrome users that the third-party cookies are going away.

Why does Google want to remove the third-party cookies that generate so much revenue? According to the giant himself, it has to do with integrity, that the user should feel less persecuted online simply. It is in the nature of every snooping technology company to get along well with users as well as various regional authorities and interest groups. The third-party cake has long been pointed out as obsolete and dying, so it is not so strange that alternatives are sought.

The alternative Google is now working on has been named Floc, federated learning of cohorts. The word “cohorts” is central here, as it roughly means “troop division.” A cohort is simply a limited group of individuals, and Floc aims to place each Chrome user in such groups. The process itself is intended to take place directly in the browser, without the involvement of other actors. Tests are currently being conducted within the framework of Google Privacy Sandbox initiative, where Floc is just one of the ingredients.

Which group you end up in depends on which web pages you visit, so tracking will undoubtedly continue. But with Floc, you are placed with “similar” Chrome users in order to strengthen your individual privacy. You specifically will no longer be able to be singled out, but companies will be able to continue to target personalized advertising to you online. Everyone wins – or?

Criticized by heavy organization

It has been relatively quiet about Google’s Floc plans in Sweden. But in the United States criticized the plans of the heavyweight organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, EFF. Among other things, because Floc is based on the premise that we must choose between either the new or the old tracking. The organization objects that a future without targeted advertising is not even launched as an alternative.

EFF refers to third-party cookies as “the internet’s biggest mistake” and thinks that users should be given the greatest possible freedom to decide for themselves how the tracking should go. The organization also sees new kinds of privacy issues with Floc, the biggest of which is something called “fingerprinting”. This means that all tracks you leave online can be combined to create a unique profile for your particular browser.

Even if your unique profile ends up in a cohort of a couple of thousand similar users, you will be easier to identify than if you had not been segmented at all. EFF also criticizes Floc for the fact that the information can still be combined with various login services, such as Sign in with Google, to more easily identify a specific user in a cohort.

The EU has also begun to take an interest in Floc, writes Wired. Above all, it is questioned how the initiative rhymes with the rock-solid GDPR legislation that attaches great importance to consent. Will Floc be turned on in Chrome from the beginning or will the user have to make an active decision to be tracked with the new technology? How transparent will the information from Google be and how easy or difficult will it be to draw conclusions about users’ surfing habits with the new implementation?

Several member states such as Belgium, France and Germany now have Floc technology under scrutiny and according to Wired, Google is highly aware that the EU may well become the most difficult player to convince of Floc’s excellence.

Exactly how it goes with Google’s bold replacement for the third-party cake will become clear in the future. Experiments with a small percentage of Chromes users are de facto already underway, and you can find out for yourself if your browser is located in a cohort by using the EFF service Am I Floced?