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Google Chrome begins testing FLoC, its third-party cookie tracking replacement

Chrome’s alternative to third party cookie tracking will allow users to be shown targeted ads in an anonymous manner, targeting groups of users based on their age, browsing habits, location, and interests.

Google Chrome tests a new form of privacy-friendly tracking
Google Chrome tests a new form of privacy-friendly tracking (Unsplash)

Google stunned the world a few weeks ago when it made the announcement that it was turning off support for third-party cookie support in its Chrome browser, a move that will change how advertising companies -- including Google themselves, track users around the internet. The company’s ‘alternative’ to third party cookies based on ‘Federated learning’ is now going live for some users, according to reports.

Dubbed Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) for Chrome, is based on machine learning technology developed by Google to allow the browser to anonymously study users browsing and then put them in groups or “cohorts”. Because users are in these groups, advertising will be based on the cohorts and not on individual user’s data.

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Chrome’s alternative to third party cookie tracking will allow users to be targeted, but in an anonymous manner, using these groups of users based on their age, browsing habits, location, interests and so on. The company has now started testing the FLoC cookie for some Chrome users, allowing them to test the new system in an origin trial, according to the Verge. Chrome origin trials allow developers to safely experiment with web platform features.

For a real-life example, this means that users who visit sites about Android devices will be grouped together in a cohort with other users who have similar browsing habits. A website that wants to show users ads related to Android devices will be able to target the cohort of users instead of a single user, which Google claims will improve user privacy.

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Since the “federated learning” happens on the user’s device, artificial intelligence-based learning involves sharing of lesser user data than with third-party cookies. If this method of tracking users is widely adopted by advertising companies and services, it will also protect users from tracking methods that are worse than third party cookies — such as browser fingerprinting.

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