Thursday, March 11, 2021

Google to Replace Ad Cookies With FLoC

David Temkin (via John Gruber):

Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.


People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.

Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers. In fact, our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.

Sam Schechner and Keach Hagey (via John Gruber, Hacker News):

Google’s heft means the change could reshape the digital ad business, where many companies rely on tracking individuals to target their ads, measure the ads’ effectiveness and stop fraud. Google accounted for 52% of last year’s global digital ad spending of $292 billion, according to Jounce Media, a digital ad consultancy.

Nick Heer:

One reason Google is doing this is because it operates at such a vast scale that it can continue to abuse user privacy with its own services with little adjustment. This affects third-party tracking and data, so it disadvantages smaller ad tech firms that are not part of the web advertising duopoly.

Bennett Cyphers (via Nick Heer, John Gruber):

This post will focus on one of those proposals, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which is perhaps the most ambitious—and potentially the most harmful.

FLoC is meant to be a new way to make your browser do the profiling that third-party trackers used to do themselves: in this case, boiling down your recent browsing activity into a behavioral label, and then sharing it with websites and advertisers. The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party cookies, but it will create new ones in the process. It may also exacerbate many of the worst non-privacy problems with behavioral ads, including discrimination and predatory targeting.

Google’s pitch to privacy advocates is that a world with FLoC (and other elements of the “privacy sandbox“) will be better than the world we have today, where data brokers and ad-tech giants track and profile with impunity. But that framing is based on a false premise that we have to choose between “old tracking” and “new tracking.” It’s not either-or. Instead of re-inventing the tracking wheel, we should imagine a better world without the myriad problems of targeted ads.


1 Comment RSS · Twitter

>The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party
>cookies, but it will create new ones in the process

Will it, though? It's your browser doing it. It's code running on your computer. You have the option of not running that browser, whereas you don't really have the option of not having third-parties track your behavior, because you have no control over them.

If this works out, it's only a mater of time until there are browsers that allow you to actively control your own behavioral labels. This is a much better situation than others doing this to you without your control.

Honestly, I don't understand why people are so insistent that this is bad, or even worse than third-party cookies, and I haven't seen a compelling argument explaining that position, other than "Google is doing it, so it must be bad."

Sure, "no tracking" would be best of all, but I do think that, between third-party cookies and browser tracking, this is the vastly better option.

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