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Brave to block Google’s FloC ad-tracking technology

Brave says Google’s FLoC harms users privacy and it is a step in the wrong direction.

FILE - This March 19, 2018 file photo shows the Google app on an iPad in Baltimore. Google says it won't develop new ways to follow individual users across the internet after it phases out existing ad tracking technology from Chrome browsers in an upcoming overhaul aimed at tightening up privacy. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - This March 19, 2018 file photo shows the Google app on an iPad in Baltimore. Google says it won't develop new ways to follow individual users across the internet after it phases out existing ad tracking technology from Chrome browsers in an upcoming overhaul aimed at tightening up privacy. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) (AP)

Brave Software, which offers open-source web browser Brave, said it would block Google’s new FloC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) ad-tracking technology.

The company added it had already disabled FLoC in the Nightly version of both Brave for desktop and Android. It plans to roll out the changes into the stable versions of the browser in the coming days.

“The worst aspect of FLoC is that it materially harms user privacy, under the guise of being privacy-friendly. Others have already detailed many of the ways FLoC is privacy harming. We note here just three aspects of FLoC that are particularly harmful and concerning,” Brave CEO and co-founder Brendon Eich and senior privacy researcher Peter Snyder wrote in a blog post.

The post goes on to explain other reasons why the browser is opposing the FLoC. For instance, it claims FloC allows sharing of information like browsing behaviour with websites and advertisers. It also alleges that the new ad-tracking method makes it easier for advertisers to track users across the web.

Brave also slammed Google’s claims of privacy-focus with FLoC.

“Google’s approach to determining whether a FLoC cohort is sensitive requires (in most cases) Google to record and collect that sensitive cohort in the first place! A system that determines whether a cohort is “sensitive” by recording how many people are in that sensitive cohort doesn’t pass the laugh test,” it added.

In case you did not know, FloC is Google’s new ad technology that uses machine learning and other methods to allow the browser to anonymously study users browsing and then put them in groups or “cohorts”. Since users are categorised in these groups, advertising will be based on the cohorts and not on individual user’s data. Google claims the new method is much more secure than the existing model that leverages cookies and other trackers to follow users on the web. Google recently began testing the technology on its Chrome browser.

Even as Google claims the FLoC is more secure, many security experts and rival browsers think differently. DuckDuckGo, another privacy-focused search engine, has criticised Google’s ad tracking method. It is also asking people to block FLoC’s tracking to protect their privacy.

“Don't use Google Chrome! Right now FLoC is only in Google Chrome, and no other browser vendor has expressed an intention or even interest to implement it. There are various browsers that are free to download, and we recommend some in our guide to Google alternatives," DuckDuckGo said.

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