Third-party cookies are claimed to be one of the most privacy-invasive practices. When Google plans to remove them in 2022, it won’t be the only company that has done something similar. Safari limited their cookie use back in 2017 and Apple’s Safari, the second biggest browser behind Chrome, limited cookie tracking in 2017. Mozilla’s Firefox blocked third-party cookies in 2019 – the problem is so vast that the browser is currently blocking ten billion trackers per day.
Third-party cookies track a person’s browsing history and are added to your device when you use Chrome. From there, popup ads start appearing according to what you browse on the internet.
If you ever wonder why you get pop ads on Pandora, for example, of your favorite clothing brand or a dating site you use, these are the third-party cookies tracking your browser history and sending it back else to feed you the ads.
“So what are the alternatives? Google’s plan is to target ads against people’s general interests using an AI system called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). The machine learning system takes your web history, among other things, and puts you into a certain group based on your interests.”
Third-party cookies spray your browsing data out everywhere, but this new learning machine method ideally will group you into categories of interest. For example, if you like to search a certain genre of TV shows as another, the algorithms will suggest to you another type similar in a grouping.
“One potential issue with the machine learning system is what it can infer about people. Since FLoC uses your browsing history to assign you to interest-based cohorts, the end result is akin to a super-tracker that is present on even more websites than Google Analytics,” says Kamyl Bazbaz, Vice President of communications at the search engine DuckDuckGo. “While FLoC means less personal data is being sent to third parties, as with the current cookie setup, there are concerns about how people will be grouped together and whether the automated process that does this will discriminate against certain groups.”
This new method for advertising method has raised concerns that it can use sensitive info about you to group you by race, sexual orientation, or religion. This can cause certain discriminations as found by a behavior similar to how Facebook has used their advertising algorithms before, that found them guilty back in 2019 by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for ads that discriminated against people based on their race.
“If an online attacker was looking to target a specific group based on their ethnicity or their religion, this attacker is then able to target the relevant FLoC ID group however they see fit,” Basile says.
Google will start testing FLoC in March. It will start by only using websites that have tracking enabled or are already serving display advertising. The company stated it is against its ad policies to serve personalized ads based on sensitive categories such as people’s race, sexual orientation. Orientation and other categories will be blocked or, if that’s not possible, Google says it will change its algorithm to “reduce the correlation”.