Google and privacy are rarely on the same page. But when they do, they can actually benefit each other.
It was back in 2019 when Google announced the "Privacy Sandbox." As a way to find alternatives to cookies, Google proposes to eliminate the trackers, but without affecting publishers or other players in the industry.
In Google's words, it's all about finding a solution that protect both users' privacy, and lets content remain free to the the open web.
Chrome engineers have been working with the broader industry, including with web standards organization W3C, on ideas in the Sandbox that have been proposed by Google and other ad tech players.
On its plan, Google shared some of its findings, showing the effectiveness of its "Federated Learning of Cohorts" proposal (FLoC).
FLoC is Google's proposed privacy-friendly substitute to cookies, and Google said that tests show promising results.
Cookies that power a massive $330 billion digital ecosystem, have long been used to collect third-party data indirectly from users based on the websites they visit.
Google and other online data exchangers as middlemen between publishers and advertisers, can make use of this data to make eerily accurate ad targeting methods.
If cookies are taken out entirely without replacement, publishers can still rely on first-party data directly uploaded to a website by users to target ads. But unfortunately, not all publishers have strong bond with their users to have the ability to gather such data.
FLoC can handle this.
As an API, FLoC that is introduced as a Chrome extension, uses AI to analyze user data to then create a group of thousands of people based off the sites they have visited. Unlike cookies, FLoC gathers data locally from the extension and the data is never shared.
“Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposes a new way for businesses to reach people with relevant content and ads by clustering large groups of people with similar interests.
This approach effectively hides individuals “in the crowd” and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the browser, said Group product manager of user trust and privacy at Google, Chetna Bindra in a blog post.
Google isn't the only company aiming to replace and phase out cookies, as Apple and Mozilla have also introduced ways to make things harder for trackers to track users' activities via cookies.
"This is one proposal," explained Bindra, about this FLoC.
"It is absolutely not the final or the singular proposal to replace third-party cookies [...] There won't be one final API that will go forward, it will be a collection of them that allows for things like interest-based advertising, as well as for measurement use cases, where it's critical to be able to ensure that advertisers can measure the effectiveness of their ads."
Bindra said the company is "extremely confident" about the progress on the proposals.
According to Google, the test results show that FLoC is "an effective privacy-focused replacement signal for third party cookies," adding that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.
"We are really seeing that one of these first Sandbox technologies for interest-based ads is literally nearly as effective as third-party cookies," Bindra said, explaining that the difference between FLoC and cookie-based is just the former won't be tracking users across the web.
"There's certainly a lot more testing coming. We are very keen for advertisers and ad tech to engage directly."
She added that the figures from the tests of FLoC should be reassuring to publishers.
Another way of saying it, FLoC for advertising “is literally nearly as effective as third-party cookies.”
The only difference is that Google goes from controlling a larger chunk of the ad-targeting ecosystem to controlling virtually all of it.
So no, FLoC won't affect Google. It will benefit users, and also Google but in a longer term.
As Google as well as its Privacy Sandbox remain under scrutiny over competition concerns, and knowing that privacy-concerned individuals are starting to understand how to evade trackers of all sorts, Google in proposing FLoC is its way of playing safe, again.
Google wants to ensure the longevity of its business, and its Sandbox and FLoC are ways to embrace the trends, but using its own way.
If everything goes well, Google wants Chrome to make the cohorts available for public testing in March 2021.