Have You Been FLoCed?
Today we’re featuring an interesting and informative article from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) detailing a new Google Chrome technology to assist advertisers in tracking users. Rather than cookies, which are on their way out, Google is experimenting with something called FLoC to replace tracking cookies and provide a new way for advertisers to track users.
The EFF has created a website – still in the beta testing stage – where you can find out if you’ve been made an unwitting guinea pig in Google’s testing of its new tracking technology to replace cookies.
The following is from the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s new website, Am I FLoCed?
Google is running a Chrome “origin trial” to test out an experimental new tracking feature called Federated Learning of Cohorts (aka “FLoC”). According to Google, the trial currently affects 0.5% of users in selected regions, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United States. This page will try to detect whether you’ve been made a guinea pig in Google’s ad-tech experiment.
What is FLoC?
Third-party cookies are the technology that powers much of the surveillance-advertising business today. But cookies are on their way out, and Google is trying to design a way for advertisers to keep targeting users based on their web browsing once cookies are gone. It’s come up with FLoC.
FLoC runs in your browser. It uses your browsing history from the past week to assign you to a group with other “similar” people around the world. Each group receives a label, called a FLoC ID, which is supposed to capture meaningful information about your habits and interests. FLoC then displays this label to everyone you interact with on the web. This makes it easier to identify you with browser fingerprinting, and it gives trackers a head start on profiling you. You can read EFF’s analysis and criticisms of FLoC here.
The Chrome origin trial for FLoC has been deployed to millions of random Chrome users without warning, much less consent. While FLoC is eventually intended to replace tracking cookies, during the trial, it will give trackers access to even more information about subjects. The origin trial is likely to continue into July 2021, and may eventually affect as many as 5% of Chrome users worldwide. See our blog post about the trial for more information…
What does my FLoC ID mean?
If you have been assigned a FLoC ID, it means that your browser has processed your browsing history and assigned you to a group of “a few thousand” similar users. The FLoC ID is the label for your behavioral group. This numeric label is not meaningful on its own. However, large advertisers (like Google) and websites (like… Google) will be able to analyze traffic from millions of users to figure out what the members of a particular FLoC have in common. Those actors may use your FLoC ID to infer your interests, demographics, or past behavior.
Why does this matter?
FLoC exists because Google acknowledges the privacy harms of third-party cookies but insists on continuing to let advertisers target you based on how you browse the web. We are happy Google will finally restrict third-party cookies in Chrome, but the last thing it should do is introduce new tracking technology. FLoC has privacy problems of its own, and it will likely continue to enable discrimination and other harms of targeted ads…
EFF believes browser developers should focus on providing a private, user-friendly experience without catering to the interests of behavioral advertisers. We should imagine a better future without the harms of targeted ads—and without Google’s FLoC…
To block third-party trackers using cookies, fingerprinting, and other sneaky methods, install EFF’s browser extension Privacy Badger.