For the past few years, Google has been waging a war against web browser cookies, particularly third-party cross-site tracking ones that violate users’ privacy outright. Of course, such cookies are also extensively used by advertising platforms, which means even Google has to find or create an alternative. That is exactly what its Privacy Sandbox and Federate Learning of Cohorts or FLoC are for and, unsurprisingly, they are earning no small amount of criticism for it. Google is now promising that it won’t be violating its own rules but privacy advocates and rival ad tech companies still aren’t buying it.
FLoC basically trades individual tracking for group tracking, the cohort that you belong to based on similar Chrome browsing history. While it may seem to respect people’s online privacy, some have still found weaknesses in the framework which Google itself could exploit for its advertising business.
Digiday reports that Google VP and GM for advertising Jerry Dischler made a public promise that Google isn’t going to build backdoors into FLoC and play by the very same rules it expects other advertisers and partners to follow. It will use the same Privacy Sandbox APIs for its own ads and metrics, the exec said at a virtual marketing event. Unsurprisingly, there are some in the ad tech industry that aren’t satisfied with the remarks.
For one, Chrome and Chromium, where FLoC will be implemented, is sort of a gray area when it comes to Google’s “owned and operated” properties. Google has reserved the right to use individual user data from its first-party properties and Chrome may very well fall under that category anyway, with or without FLoC. And then there’s the possibility that Google could change its tune in the near future, as it has demonstrated in the past.
Privacy and consumer rights advocates also have issues with the entire idea behind FLoC in the first place. Some criticize the system as hiding actual privacy violations behind those cohorts and aren’t really effective in protecting users against advertisers, Google included. There’s also the fact that FLoC only works on Chrome and using Google’s ad platform, giving it almost an unfair advantage over other advertising platforms and browsers.