Google wants Change the way we track Given the widespread use of the Chrome browser around the web, the shift may have significant security and privacy effects – but the idea has been less appreciated by companies other than Google.
The technology in question to give it a full and rather misleading name is FLOC, or Federation Learning of Cohorts. It aims to give advertisers a way to target ads without revealing details to individual users, and it does so by grouping together interested people of the same type: football fans, truck drivers, retired passengers or whatever.
“We started with the idea that groups of people of general interest could replace individual identifiers.” Google’s Chetna Bindra writes. “This method effectively hides people ‘in the crowd’ and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private in the browser.”
These groups (or “cohorts”) are generated by algorithms (this is the “federated learning” bit), and you will present a separate one each week – advertisers will only be able to see its ID. To make the identification of individual users more difficult, any number of very small ones will be grouped together until they have at least a few thousand users.
FLOC is based on the concept of a Privacy Sandbox, A Google-led initiative for websites to request certain bits about users without exceeding a mark. In addition to the FLOC, the Privacy Sandbox covers other technologies: to prevent ad fraud, to help website developers analyze their incoming traffic, to measure ad effectiveness, and more.
Google wants FLoC to be the most common way to track people on the Internet: cookies. These little bits of text and code are stored on your computer or phone by your browser and help determine whether you’ve visited websites before, what your site preferences are, where you are based in the world, and much more. They can be helpful for both websites and their visitors but they are also used extensively by advertisers and data brokers to create patterns in our browsing history.
As Google Shows, Cookie tracking has become more aggressive. Embedded, far-reaching trackers, known as third-party cookies, keep tabs as users move across multiple websites, while advertisers also use an offensive technique called fingerprinting to find out who is running the anti-tracking system (using your) font or your computer. ID, your connected Bluetooth device or other means).