A new tracking method called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC is being introduced by Google. It is a part of the “Privacy Sandbox” initiative, the one announced in 2019. Google experts are convinced that its substitute for cookies would be the best security for users but many people are doubtful.
The idea and need of FLoC came out because many browsers block third-party cookies by default. When the tracking cookies turned down it becomes impossible to track. To counter this situation, Google desired to devise other systematic ways to track users’ data for the relevant ads. FLoC is would be free of any cookies so that means FLoC would let advertisers target without cookies.
FLoC would run in Goole’s Chrome browser, and users’ online behavior would be tracked by it.
FLoC lets advertisers use behavioral targeting without cookies. It runs in Google’s Chrome browser and tracks a user’s online behavior. It would then assign that browser history an identifier and would add it to a group of other browsers. All of them with similar behaviors called a “cohort”.
Advertisers would be able to see the behaviors that people in a cohort share without being able to identify individuals within that cohort because each person’s browser is given an anonymized ID.
User’s cohort IDs would be recalculated on a weekly basis. A new summary of the users ‘ online behavior would be provided to the advertiser. According to Google, no one could be chosen out of the group and paired with their unique browsing data, as there would be thousands of people in each cohort.
Main FLoCing for us;-
According to Google FLoC will be doing personalized ads but it will not collect data that can be tied to some people who are using its products. That would happen by them assigning each browser an unknown ID. Then that unknown ID would be added into a large group. That group would have consisted of only the overall patterns which would be accessible to advertisers. The main concept is that you would have your privacy only the data would be shared with advertising anonymously. An algorithm called SimHash would be used by FLoC.
SimHash would create user IDs and also assign people to cohorts. SimHash was at first introduced for the usage by Google web crawlers to search out identical web pages.
One of the privacy concerns which is highly associated with third-party cookies is that when this would happen, you data will not get stored on a server. Lots of users’ data could be associated with individual people should be stored under unclear security protocols for a long time. Google also claims that cohorts with “highly sensitive content” won’t be used. It would be free of all the sensitive things which Google would think are sensitive. Like if someone visists frequently the site that publishes of involves in religious or political content or if someone visits medical website. These would not be used to add to a cohort. And likewise, all sensitive things would remain private.
According to a statement published by Marshall Vale, the product manager of Google’s privacy sandbox:
“Before a cohort becomes eligible, Chrome analyzes it to see if the cohort is visiting pages with sensitive topics, such as medical websites or websites with political or religious content, at a high rate. If so, Chrome ensures that the cohort isn’t used, without learning which sensitive topics users were interested in.”
Many people are speaking again at FLoC. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) opposed the theme quite harshly. According to Google is making use of false dichotomy when it comes to privacy and entitled it as “Google’s FLoC Is a Terrible Idea”. The article’s author Bennett Cyphers says;
“Instead of re-inventing the tracking wheel, we should imagine a better world without the myriad problems of targeted ads, “You either have old tracking or new tracking”—there just shouldn’t be tracking, period.
Other people are also not into FLoC as Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox web browser, has declared that they will not be opting for FLoC. The company also requires some ways to advertise that preserve privacy but ut won’t go with this idea.
Chrome branched browsers like Brave and Vivaldi, are not going with this either.
Apple has also opposed and said that it will not use FLoC in its Safari browser. As of April 2021, Microsoft has disabled the feature in Microsoft Edge, its Chromium-derived browser.
New Privacy Concerns;-
According to Cyphers FLoC had produced new privacy concerns by trying to address old ones while still keeping targeted ads. One of those concerns is fingerprinting.
Browser fingerprinting is the ability to gather separate parts of information from someone’s browser and compose them into a reliable identifier for a specific person. The unique browser behavior gets more fingerprints because that unique browser behavior sets you different from the group.
According to Cyphers FLoC records your browsing behavior and from that creates an identifier before assigning you to a group. So, whoever wants to track you, it is far more easier as a lot of the work has already been done for them. Someone trying to track a pre-FLoC Chrome user would have to pick them from a pool of millions—a cohort is only a few thousand.
FLoC would share your cohort data with the advertisers. It would share the data with the sites or companies that you looked into, who can identify you or your login information. Let’s suppose you have logged into a site with Goole for a service. In that service, your information like name and login details would already be saved there. You are identified there. That information can be used to tie your cohort ID, which is supposed to be anonymous, to your user profile.
Cyber Security experts are of the view that this cross-contextual information would be highly beneficial in tracking.
“You should have a right to present different aspects of your identity in different contexts. If you visit a site for medical information…there’s no reason it needs to know what your politics are”.