One minute you're pricing out a dream vacation to Tahiti. The next minute you're bombarded with eerily specific adverts for resorts, airfare, and other "deals" related to that webpage you were just on.
It's the kind of thing Google
Google will "join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third party cookies with alternative user level identifiers," said David Temkin, Google director of product management for ads privacy and trust, in a recent blog post.
For those not in the know-third party cookies allow advertisers to directly target you based on your browsing history. Click on the Tahitian resort's homepage and receive adverts for low-cost airfare to the South Pacific. This sort of direct targeting is invaluable for online advertisers because an ad is only effective if you're interested in it. And through cookies, advertisers can predict your interests based on what sites you visit.
Despite the utility of third-party tracking, Google and others in the ad-tech space have been seeking alternatives for some time. Google's most touted replacement is something it calls FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). Google's strained acronym reveals this new technology's basic premise- birds of a feather FLoC together.
Advertisers won't target individuals under the FLoC system. Instead, advertisers will target cohorts, groups of people who seem to share similar interests based on their browsing history.
Google claims that FLoC could deliver 95% of the conversion rate afforded by third-party cookies while meeting consumers growing expectations for privacy.
"Our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers," Temkin elaborated in the blog post.
Still, some in the digital ad space remain skeptical about the effectiveness of FLoC and other cookie alternatives. "I think we all want to believe this will be good, and we all want to get to a place where users have more privacy," Paul Bannister, chief strategy officer at CafeMedia, told CNBC. "But given how complicated and technical the process is, it's unclear what will really happen next."
And while anonymously grouping users into cohorts might seem like a step in the right direction, others aren't so sure. "A flock name would essentially be a behavioral credit score: a tattoo on your digital forehead that gives a succinct summary of who you are, what you like, where you go, what you buy, and with whom you associate," wrote Bennet Cyphers, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, quoted by CNBC.
Google remains confident in FLoC. However, "FLoC is not the final or the singular proposal to replace third party cookies" Chetna Bindra, Google's group product manager for user trust and privacy, told CNBC. Bindra emphasized that Google's solution will likely consist of a suite of different tools that will help "ensure that advertisers can measure the effectiveness of their ads."
And to address privacy concerns, Google plans to avoid placing people into cohorts based on their race, sexuality, or religion by consistently reconfiguring its algorithms.
Nevertheless, FLoC and other Google alternatives could end up being a "worst of both worlds" solution. It might not be as useful for advertisers while not being discrete enough for privacy hawks.
Still others believe Google can deliver the best of both worlds.
- 1. https://www.vox.com/recode/2021/3/3/22311460/google-cookie-ban-search-ads-tracking