“Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) … effectively hides individuals ‘in the crowd’ and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the browser… Chrome intends to make FLoC-based cohorts available for public testing through origin trials with its next release in March and we expect to begin testing FLoC-based cohorts with advertisers in Google Ads in Q2,” Google said in an announcement.
Google announced in October that they’re testing an alternative to third-party cookies called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). This process essentially groups people with similar interests into cohorts to protect the privacy of the individual and allows advertisers to still serve relevant ads while keeping each person’s browsing private. With this testing happening in late 2020, it made sense that Google announced the plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome over the next two years.
Why we care. Cookies have carried the weight of online advertising for quite a long time and have taken on greater importance as the web has evolved and search marketing has along with it. With more consumers and internet searchers caring about protecting their data and privacy online, browsers are ditching the cookie-tracking model. The FLoC model by Google claims to protect the privacy of the individual but still allows advertisers to see data from the collective. This change could be an adjustment for advertisers who rely heavily on Google Ads for revenue.
The attribution issue. Cookies have been the main driver of advertising attribution. Tech and browser companies have been working hard to eliminate the outdated cookie-based tracking models while also preserving their own ad revenues. A 2016 Princeton University study  found that Google tracks two-thirds of activity online. Browsers like DuckDuckGo  (which recently reached over 100 million searches per day), Firefox, and Safari have shown dedication to privacy with their commitment to eliminating tracking, cookies, and browser fingerprinting  .
The FLoC model is the future of advertising measurement for Google which attempts to both give advertisers the data they need to attribute and measure and determine fraudulent traffic from actual visitors while maintaining the privacy of individuals online. Google says, “Our tests show that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”
Finding the balance. GDPR, CCPA, the elimination of third-party cookies, browsers cracking down on fingerprinting, and other privacy measures all have to be balanced with the understanding that tech companies rely on ad revenue and businesses rely on advertising to drive more traffic and grow their own businesses.
“We are more confident than ever that the Privacy Sandbox is the best path forward to improve privacy for web users while ensuring publishers can earn what they need to fund great content and advertisers can reach the right people for their products,” the announcement says. Meanwhile, others like the Electronic Frontier Foundation  wonder if it’s too easy for individual data to be decoded with technologies like FLoC.
Google seeks feedback. With any new technology, user testing will allow advertisers to provide Google with feedback on their experiences with the model including attribution, ad fraud prevention, and anti-fingerprinting.
In a blog post from Friday, Google announced, “Google is launching experiments that are intended to provide bidders with an opportunity to test and provide collaborative feedback on ads-privacy proposals–these are features intended to improve user privacy protections and provide mechanisms for testing Chrome Privacy Sandbox proposals. We strongly encourage interested bidders to sign up  and participate!”
- ^ announced (blog.google)
- ^ alternative to third-party cookies (searchengineland.com)
- ^ Princeton University study (webtransparency.cs.princeton.edu)
- ^ DuckDuckGo (searchengineland.com)
- ^ browser fingerprinting (www.zdnet.com)
- ^ Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org)
- ^ sign up (docs.google.com)
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