Google’s controversial, new tracking method called the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is going live for some users in the United States, Canada, India, Japan, the Philippines, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia as a part of the company’s new Privacy Sandbox initiative. In the process, third-party cookies are becoming a thing of the past, and with that, many questions have come up regarding Google’s ability to have special, sole access and domination over user data.
While Google claims that its new approach to tracking and advertising to users as a part of a “flock” instead of as individuals or popular device fingerprinting methods will not affect publisher’s income much, there’s already been lots of push back. As a result, Google has built a new website called The Privacy Sandbox which addresses many of these concerns and lays out the facts to squash misinformation raised over the past few months.
For now, you can manually block FLoC in Chrome for desktop by visiting your Privacy and security settings and choosing ‘Block third-party cookies’. If you’re on mobile, just visit your Chrome settings, go to ‘Site settings’, ‘Cookies’, and then choose the same option for blocking third-party access to your cookies there. I know, this doesn’t seem to make much sense at first glance, but Google is only including users who have not done so in their initial tests.
Luckily, the option for enabling or disabling the Privacy Sandbox feature entirely has recently appeared in Chrome Canary and can be accessed by toggling the developer flag for it at chrome://flags/#privacy-sandbox-settings-2 if you’re interested. It’s worth stating that FLoC blocking may not be a permanent option and may disappear in the near future as Google’s initiative rolls out in full.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this in the comments below. While Google is moving away from advertising as a core means of revenue generation, it’s interesting to see FLoC lean so heavily in its direction. I haven’t formed a complete opinion on it as a whole, to be honest, because I don’t think that Google would put itself in direct line of fire for something as important as user data and privacy (though it has before) since it’s working so hard to build up trust around both where they’ve been severely damaged in years past. I also think that FLoC presents some improvements as an alternative to the traditional third-party cookie approach, so I don’t want to throw the rubber ducky out with the bathwater, so to speak – Yes, I know that’s not the idiom.