The tech and browser world has been abuzz with Google’s “FLOC” technology that promises to do away with cookies entirely in favor of federated learning. But will any of this have an impact on website owners? And is it a good thing for us?
What is FLOC?
Simply put, FLOC means that Google will show you ads based on your browsing history. It’s that simple. It doesn’t mean that the ads will always reflect the subject matter of the sites you visit, however. It means that Google will use your history to put you into one of many “cohorts” – like demographics. So for me, it’ll try and determine that I’m a 40-year old dude living in Canada. And whatever other data it can glean from me.
Once you’ve been assigned to a cohort, Google will then show you ads that are targeted to your demographics.
How Is Google Able to Do This?
One word – Chrome. Google is using its browser and ad monopoly in tandem to switch the way digital ads work all over the Internet. Because of Chrome, Google can do the following:
- Block 3rd party cookies that were previously used for cross-site tracking
- Implement FLOC within the Google Chrome code
Combined with its monopoly on digital ad services, Google can single-handedly change the entire market.
What’s the Justification?
The surface justification is that the previous method of targeting advertisements relied on 3rd party cookies. Meaning that a 3rd party (not the site you were visiting), places a cookie on your browser that tracks you as you visit various unrelated sites and can build up a profile about you to serve ads. It’s shady as hell but too widespread to do anything about it.
To combat cookies, Google has now decided to take over the process themselves. They don’t need to put a cookie on your computer since you use their browser – a giant cookie in itself! In essence, GOOGLE becomes the 3rd party cookie.
How Is This Better Than Before?
Strictly speaking, it’s not! Imagine that your car uses your driving location history to build a profile about you, and then allowing advertisers to pay the car manufacturer to show ads based on where you went, which restaurants you frequent the most, and which school you drive your kids to. That’s essentially what Google is doing with Chrome.
But Does This Affect Website Owners?
Indirectly yes. I respect the privacy of my visitors – I don’t place 3rd party cookies on their sites (and neither should you). But with FLOC, Google isn’t giving me a choice. My visitors will be tracked, and they will receive ads based on the fact that they chose to visit my site.
If visitors see targeted advertisements based on the fact that they came to my site, it might leave a bad taste in their mouth and assume that I had something to do with it! They might not want to visit my site again. Admittedly, this might sound far-fetched, but it’s the principle of the thing!
How Do you Work Around it?
Stop using Chrome. You can continue to use Chromium-based browsers like Microsoft Edge and Vivaldi. Or you can move to my personal favorite – Firefox. I think Firefox really needs support right now because it’s the only major browser that hasn’t yet succumbed to the Webkit layout engine, and uses Gecko instead. Even Apple has moved to Webkit. So Firefox is the only truly different web browser at the moment.
Google’s FLOC is an anti-trust lawsuit waiting to happen. Google is using its monopoly in one industry to bolster its monopoly in another. Even if it doesn’t directly affect you as a website owner, you need to be concerned about your reputation and how you are perceived. FLOC tracks all your visitors by default if they use a Chrome browser. And that’s not something we should be okay with!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!