One of the main applications of third-party cookies is user tracking. The cookies are used to identify users and provide advertisers with information on user activity.
Browser makers like Mozilla and Microsoft started to introduce protective functionality in their browsers to address tracking and growing user concerns as privacy became a growing user concern worldwide.
Today, Google announced that it won't replace third-party cookies, once eliminated as an option to track users, with other functions that track individual users.
Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.
Google introduced some groundwork in Chrome 89 Stable, which it released yesterday to the public.
One of the company's core plan of going forward is to move tracking to group levels. Called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), it is designed to group users into interests groups and provide advertisers with correlation information between clicks on ads and conversions on sites.
FLoC is designed to show relevant interest-based advertisement to Internet users, but without identification of the individual. Cohorts are made up of thousands of people "derived by the browser from its user's browsing history". Google notes on GitHub that the data is stored locally and are not uploaded to remote servers.
The central idea is that these input features to the algorithm, including the web history, are kept local on the browser and are not uploaded elsewhere — the browser only exposes the generated cohort.
Since cohorts consist of thousands of Internet users, it is clear that interests will overlap, but also that there will be interests that only some of the users of a cohort share.
Google lists several abuse scenarios on the GitHub page, including that sites that can identify individual users, e.g. through accounts, could link information provided by FLoC to users, that it could be used as a tracking mechanism, and that sensitive interests may be revealed. The readme suggests that users will be able to control whether their browser sends a "real" FLoC or a random one.
Much about FLoC and related functions is still in an experimental stage, and things may change along the way before wide adoption starts. Unless something critical happens, it is set in stone that FLoC will become a part of the Google browser. Whether other browser makers, be they Chromium-based or based on other technology, will implement this as well is not clear at this point.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.