FLoC is Google’s attempt to replace third-party cookies. What do you need to know?
In an effort to protect the privacy of web users, Google has announced that Chrome will no longer support third party cookies. The solution is FLoC, a Google initiative appearing on their proprietary browser. Since 65% of all web browsing occurs on Chrome, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with everything we know about FLoC.
FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts, which sounds a lot more complex than it actually is. Essentially, instead of harvesting the data of individual users and advertising products and services directly from their specific browsing histories, Google is assigning everyone to groups. These groups are the cohorts of the acronym, and each will have thousands of users assigned.
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The idea is that individual data will become harder if not impossible to track against every other member of the cohort. Advertisements, then, will be based on the larger behavior of the entire cohort.
Will it work?
Google estimates that ad buys will be 95% as effective as they were under the old third-party cookies system. As of yet, we have no way to know if this is accurate.
What about Firefox and Safari?
FLoC only applies to Chrome, so targeting users on other browsers is an open question. Safari and Firefox have already phased out third-party cookies out of privacy concerns, but unlike Google they have not replaced them with anything.
Advertisements, then, will be based on the larger behavior of the entire cohort.
A cynical individual might assume that this is Google’s way of getting more users to adopt their proprietary platform, but I remain a wide-eyed idealist.
How are cohorts selected?
The algorithm will be looking both at URLs as well as the content of the pages. For example, it might group a bunch of people who regularly visit espn.com and might throw in users who go to nba.com or mlb.com or even assorted sports blogs. Cohorts will be organized by algorithm according to common browser histories, and will be reassigned every week.
In addition, any cohorts that reveal what Google terms sensitive data, such as race, sexuality, or personal hardship, will be blocked or reconfigured by the clustering algorithm. In other words, this sort of data will not be apparent and will not influence which advertisements a cohort sees.
What’s the verdict?
It’s too early to tell, and thus far we have to take Google at their word. If it does work as advertised, you won’t be losing very much in terms of effectiveness. Your ad buys will be nearly as effective, and your targeting is diluted only down to a few thousand. That’s still pretty precise.
So our message is don’t panic. But rest assured, we will be keeping an eye on any further developments, and look forward to determining what the effect is on our platforms.
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