Privacy-oriented browsers say no to Google’s FLoC

In late March, Google announced the introduction of a new web technology – Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which will eventually replace the practice of browsers and independent websites to store user data (cookies). The browser giant believes that FLoC will be less intrusive compared to current user privacy practices. It also wants other browsers and website hosting companies to embrace the new web technology.

However, privacy-focused companies such as Brava, DuckDuckGo, Vivaldi and others have rejected Google’s invitation to implement FloC in their search engines.

What is FLoC?
Before diving deep into FLoC and its features, let us explain to you what “cookies” do.

When a user visits a website that uses cookies, a cookie file is created and saved to the device (phone, tablet or computer). It is basically text that contains the name of the site, and at the same time a unique ID that represents the user such as device ID, username, password, browsing data and more.

And if the user returns to the site again, the site knows he has already been there and lets him continue where he went before.

Browsing apps use cookies to understand user preferences (most visited sites) and to provide better search results.

Also, if the site is an e-commerce site, they will know that that user has previously visited and purchased these items. Using a machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm, they would create a more personal profile with data such as email ID, cell phone number, age, purchase history, and more) associated with the user. With such information, they will show targeted product ads that that person is likely to like and lead to a purchase.

This creation of a personally identifiable profile is exactly why advocates of user privacy oppose cookies in browsers and websites.

Google now says FLoC is the best alternative to cookies and wants others to use this web technology.

The company claims that FLoC will allow users to remain anonymous while browsing websites, and also improves privacy by allowing publishers to show relevant ads to large groups (called cohorts).

Instead of individual tracking, browsing history will be grouped with others with similar occupations. Also, every time there is a change in browsing behavior, the user associates with other groups. This will help restrict companies from creating individual profiles.

He also noted that FLoC will not share browsing history with anyone, not even Google. He adds that Chrome’s browser will go a step further to analyze whether or not to track user browsing history in certain sensitive scenarios.

For example, if a user goes to websites with sensitive topics at high speed, such as medical websites or websites with political or religious content, Chrome will neither create individual profiles nor place them in groups (cohorts).

However, browsing app developers like DuckDuck Go and Brave are ready to buy Google’s new FLoC technology.

They just want Google to simply stop tracking user behavior. Creating groups to protect an individual user is just bullshit, as user tracking continues in the new FLoC system.

Here’s what the Brave search engine said on Google’s FLoC

FLoC promotes the false notion of what privacy is and why privacy is important.

Google is aware of some of these concerns, but gives them a shallow treatment in its proposal. For example, Google notes that some categories (sexual orientation, medical issues, political party, etc.) will be excluded from the FLoC and explore other ways to prevent the use of “sensitive” categories in the FLoC. Google’s approach here is fundamentally wrong.

First, Google’s approach to determining whether a FLoC cohort is sensitive requires (in most cases) Google to record and collect that sensitive cohort at all! A system that determines whether a cohort is “sensitive” by recording how many people are in that sensitive cohort does not pass the laughter test.

Here’s what DuckDuckGo said on Google while removing cookies on Chrome

Blocking third-party cookies and related mechanisms partially limits multi-page tracking (which is certainly a good thing), but the reality is that as long as the tracker is still loading in your browser, it can definitely still be tracked – somewhat less easily, but tracking is still follow, and the most represented cross-site trackers (those from Google and Facebook) are certainly still following you. In that context, browser privacy technology that only restricts trackers once they load is like using an umbrella in a hurricane: You’ll still get wet!

DuckDuckGo also pointed out that removing all trackers will actually improve the loading speed of web pages on the screen by 46 percent, while also reducing internet data usage by up to 34 percent.

With FLoC, simply browsing the web automatically places you in a group based on your browsing history (the “cohort”). The webpages you visit will be able to immediately access this FLoC ID of this group and use it to target ads or content to like entering a store where they already know everything about you! In addition, while FLoC is supposedly more private because it’s a group, combined with your IP address (which is also automatically sent to websites) you can continue to be easily tracked as an individual. ” , DuckDuckGo remarked.

I have to read | DuckDuckGo asks users to leave Chrome to avoid the new Google tracking method

As of now, FLoC is being tested on a small percentage of users in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines and the United States.

Google plans to expand testing to wider regions in the coming weeks.

Google has the task of convincing independent companies and browser sites to implement FLoC in their systems.

Also, it remains to be seen how users will respond to Google’s plan to formally release FLoC on Chrome to the public in the near future.

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