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As third-party cookies become obsolete, Google prepares to run test trials of FLoC aka Federated Learning of Cohorts.
FLoC is designed to collect data by assigning each browser an anonymized ID and then adding that ID into groups where user patterns can be accessed by advertisers. Google will allow personalized ads without the collection of specific user data. Google intends to use an algorithm called ‘SimHash’ to create user IDs and assign various cohorts.
A user’s browser history is assigned an identifier and adds it to a group of other browsers with similar behaviors called a ‘cohort’. By having a unique identifier your data will be stored on your computer and not a server, which is the main privacy concern that comes along with third-party cookies. User data security has been a major concern for years and Google promises to protect ‘highly-sensitive content’. Medical, religious and political websites will not be added to a cohort and are to remain private. According to Google, ‘Chrome analyzes each cohort to see if the user is utilizing pages with sensitive material on a frequent basis, then determines if the cohort will be eligible for use’. Every user ID would be recalculated each week providing new behaviors and IDs. By having thousands of users in each cohort a user cannot be identified because their browsing data would be constantly changing.
User data has helped personalized web browsing and advertisers for decades, but are there ways around targeted tracking? Is Google moving in the right direction with consumers in mind? Other major browsers are not so sure. As of April 2021, Microsoft has disabled this feature within Edge, other browsers include GitHub, Brave, Vivaldi, the EFF, DuckDuckGo and WordPress.
Mozilla has turned away from FLoC but will continue to look for alternative tracking systems. Ad targeting involves fingerprinting, which is the ability to take separate pieces of information from a browser and create an identifier for a specific user. If a user has a unique browser behavior, they will create a distinct fingerprint that sets them apart. FLoC will share cohort data with companies that can already identify users with their login information. By logging into a site with Google for a service your login-name and credentials have already been saved. User information for that service and cohort ID can be linked to your profile, which is supposed to be anonymous.
By allowing user information to be saved ad targeting and fingerprinting have become even more effective of tracking a user’s behavior. Some test trials have launched in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines and the US, you can use the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) AMIFloced site to check if you have been issued a FLoC ID and added to one of Google’s cohorts.
google flickr photo by stockcatalog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license