FLoC: An Answer to Data Privacy?

In March, Google made news with plans to eliminate third-party tracking technologies out of concern for user privacy. Third-party tracking technologies, however, had been a long-standing marketing staple for targeting ads to customers. These changes have brought more changes, one of which is the proposed solution known as “FLoC.” And not everyone is happy about this possible solution.

What does “FLoC” mean?

The acronym “FLoC” stands for “Federated Learning of Cohorts,” which, as George Nguyen explains in Search Engine Land, is a new means of how browsers can implement interest-based advertising. Data about a user’s online browsing habits is gathered and then grouped with other users based on interests that are the same or similar—which is where the word “cohort” comes into play. The information about these particular users is what is shared for ad targeting. If the practices of “FLoC” seem similar to third-party tracking, there are noticeable differences…

FLoC is all local browser-based

Whereas third-party technology could have user information exposed and floating anywhere through cyberspace, FLoC keeps individual user data secure in its local browsers. And even then, the only information shared about a user is by way of a specified cohort ID. Finally, users are “shifted” from one cohort grouping to another on a weekly basis, based on what they search for. In short, it is much more difficult to identify a single user on the Internet via FLoC than it was through third-party tracking. While this may address privacy concerns, not everyone is happy about FLoC

Pressure from WordPress

In an article that appeared in Martech, Mr. Nguyen writes of the effects that implementing FLoC would have on websites created in well-known content management system, WordPress. With FLoC activated, the browsing behavior of users risks being hidden from Google’s ad targeting technology. Significantly, approximately 40 percent of all websites are built in WordPress. The concern among brands and businesses that utilize this content management system is serious; so much so, that last month, WordPress proposed blocking FLoC by default. To accomplish this, webmasters would add a few lines of code geared to opt out WordPress sites. This in turn would prevent whatever topics of interest that user cohorts were searching for to reach Google. It should be emphasized that as of this writing, this move by WordPress is only a proposal, not a threat. Still, WordPress is not alone…

Anti-FLoC sentiment from around the web

In addition to WordPress, Mr. Nguyen lists Chromium-base browsers Vivaldi and Brave as among a growing list of other adversaries to FLoC. While the intention of this new—not to mention controversial—method of ad targeting is to protect user privacy, the connection between ads and existing and potential customers is still severely hampered.

The question of whether Google should proceed with implementing FLoC—along with the possible workarounds from WordPress and other sites to ensure that ads remain visible to customers—is still in limbo. Whatever the outcome, this is a strong example of the trials and challenges that online advertising is currently experiencing in the face of change.

EGC continues to stay aware and in touch with these changes. If your brand or business is affected by the changes to Google’s ad targeting policies, contact us today. We can help your presence stay strong and visible—regardless of the ongoing changes.