Google promises not to create a backdoor for Chrome’s FLoC ad targeting

Google now has a virtual monopoly on web browsers, search engines and online advertising. The company’s massive reach is already leading to a U.S. Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit, and its new Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) technology isn’t helping the situation. FLoC was intended to replace tracking cookies, which have been used for years to track people across websites. And now Google promises that it certainly not create additional tracking methods in Chrome browser for itself.

Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is a new feature tested in Google Chrome that enables targeted advertising without the use of cross-site tracking cookies (which many browsers and ad blockers no longer allow). FLoC examines your browsing history and puts you in an ad targeting group based on your behavior. The technology is intended to be more private than cross-site tracking cookies, as there are no longer individual profiles but only targeting groups. Even then, it was criticized for being enabled by default and allowing other types of tracking.

It’s also possible for Google to bypass FLoC completely and use browser histories and other data synced with Google Accounts to serve ads. It would give Google an unfair advantage over other ad providers, but the company is now promising not to. Jerry Dischler, vice president of advertising for Google, recently said at a virtual marketing event that “we will use these [Privacy Sandbox] APIs for our own ads and measurement products like everyone else, and we won’t be building any backdoors for ourselves.

This might be good news for other ad companies, but it doesn’t solve the mess that FLoC has become. Publishers and advertisers are reluctant to say goodbye to cross-site tracking cookies, and almost every other web browser that already blocked trackers promises to turn off FLoC. Browser Vivaldi said “it does not protect privacy and is definitely not good for users,” while Brave called it “bad for web users, bad for sites and a bad direction for the Web in general ”. Microsoft, Apple, and Mozilla are still deciding whether they will bring FloC to their browsers in the future – it’s not available in Safari or Firefox at the moment, and Microsoft has it disabled in Edge.

Google’s promise to follow its own rules may not be convincing enough, especially when the Chrome browser Google distributes (different from Chromium) isn’t open-source, so it wouldn’t be difficult to hide a additional tracking behavior in the browser. Google could also change its mind at any time, especially if investors and executives are forced to generate more ad revenue.

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