Google is changing its plan to phase out browser cookies, moving away from FLoC because the technology is widely seen as failing to ensure user privacy. Google has been planning for two years to replace cookies with other technologies used to deliver targeted advertising to users, using a system called FLoC. On Tuesday, Google backed down from complaints about the proposed system, instead of planning to take a different approach.
join us on telegram
FLoC, or Federated Learning for Groups, will replace cookies by using an in-browser algorithm that analyzes a user’s browsing history to determine a user’s groups of interest. Users will be assigned a queue number that may contain thousands of people, and advertisers will be able to use these same queue numbers for targeted targeting of interests.
The system is designed to provide users with a degree of privacy, and as it is calculated on the user’s device, the user becomes nearly anonymous under the influence of a large number of other people within their group. As users’ browsing habits change, the algorithm will recalculate and determine new queues of users, which in turn will change online advertising categories.
Despite the privacy-preserving purpose, Google said FLoC may not be enough to protect users’ identities, according to the Financial Times. It was also seen as difficult for manufacturers and users to understand the system and to manage how their data was used. Vinay Goel, project production manager at Google, said the decision to drop FLoC came after feedback from publishers and marketers.
Previous criticism from rivals, including Mozilla, pointed to privacy concerns, such as how groups of thousands of users could easily be used to track specific users. Not only that but using browser fingerprinting, a group of users can be narrowed down to a small number of individuals who may be potential targets. There are also concerns that the system is a “black box” for competitors, giving Google too much control over the audience and data it provides to advertisers.
Google will replace FLoC with another system called Topics. While users will still be grouped, categorization will be much simpler than categorization within groups, such as providing a generic sports category for people who read baseball, thus making groups more common will also reduce the number of users being classified in groups’ possibility of identification.
Google has not finalized groupings within topics but will discuss the matter with publishers. Before Google’s FLoC decision, publishers and ad groups asked EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager to intervene in the search giant’s plans to block third-party cookies in 2023.