Google’s FLoC Looks to Replace Cookies

Third-party cookies have long been scrutinized due to privacy complaints. Google found a potential way to replace the way users are tracked for marketing.

The further humans dive into the vast expanses of the internet, the more we care about privacy. Many websites use cookies to track user’s information and how they interact with their sites, those are called first-party cookies. Third-party cookies are used by ad companies to track your activity across the web so that ads can be tailored to your interests. Third-party cookies have been under fire for some time due to privacy concerns. Web browsers like Safari, Edge and Firefox have already banned third-party cookies, with Google joining the foray last year. But what are marketers to do without cookies? Google announced last month that it has a solution: Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC.

FLoC is a way for businesses to continue to reach people who search for relevant content and ads to be effectively reached by clustering large groups of people with similar interests. This anonymizes the individual users, essentially “hiding” them in a crowd of other users with similar interests. This way, the user’s information remains protected, but businesses can still reach potentially interested customers.

Chetna Bindra, Google’s Group Product Manager for User Trust and Privacy, said, “By creating simulations based on the principles defined in Chrome’s FLoC proposal, Google’s ads teams have tested this privacy-first alternative to third-party cookies. Results indicate that when it comes to generating interest-based audiences, FLoC can provide an effective replacement signal for third-party cookies. Our tests of FLoC to reach in-market and affinity Google Audiences show that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”

She goes on to discuss that each company’s result will be dependent on the strength of the clustering algorithm being used and the type of audience being targeted. Google plans to have FLoC available for testing in March for public users. Testing with Google Ads advertisers will take place in the second quarter.

The deeper into the internet we go, the more consumers are learning to educate themselves. They want to know what information is being tracked, who is tracking it and they want a way to opt-out. However, with FLoC, users can rest a little easier knowing that there is no personal identifying information being kept with the data being tracked. It’s all anonymized and grouped with other users who have similar interests. 

It is likely that this is the direction most companies are going to go moving forward. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are becoming more widely understood, and are likely to be integrated with this type of marketing/tracking. All of that automation and technology makes it so that human marketers can appropriately direct the ads and content put on the web. It’s another example of how technology aids humans but cannot make those decisions, therefore the human marketer is absolutely necessary. And, in this case, the entire process is wrapped in anonymity and security.

Privacy is a big point of contention among consumers today. Some people prefer that their activity is tracked so that they can see information related to their interests. Other people don’t want their information tracked at all and don’t care if they see ads that are meaningless to them. This is why we’ve seen an uptick in compliance rules and regulations over the last few years, why you’re now seeing websites show you what cookies they are tracking and they allow you to choose if your information is shared. FLoC will have to work within those compliance guidelines as well.

If your business is looking at this new technology to use for marketing, don’t dive in head first. Do your research, consult an expert, find a way to understand privacy to the best of your ability and what you are and are not allowed to do. Breaking these compliance rules can result in huge fines. Don’t take chances, make sure your business is doing things the right way the first time.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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