Google FLoC: All you need to know to save yourself

Google FLoC

Table of Contents

What is Google FLoC:

Recently the tech giant Google launched its new ads-tracking technology called FLoC which stands for ‘Federated Learning of Cohorts’. It groups you based on your interests and demographics, derived from your browsing history, to enable creepy advertising and another content targeting without third-party cookies.

After a short trial period, Google decided not to make this new tracking method a user choice and instead started automatically including millions in the scheme. If you’re a Google Chrome user, you might be shocked to learn that you could have been entered automatically into this new tracking method.

How a user can avoid FLoC:

The criteria for being opted into FLoC are somewhat hidden as Google opting users without their consent, but there are three methods for blocking FLoC:

Don’t use Google Chrome: Right now FLoC is only in Google Chrome, and no other browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Opera, or M-Edge has expressed an intention or even interest to implement it. Download the above-mentioned browsers. On iOS or Android, we highly suggest you use DuckDuckGo mobile browser, which offers best-in-class privacy protection by default when searching and browsing.

Install the DuckDuckGo Chrome extension. In response to Google automatically turning on FLoC, DuckDuckGo enhanced the tracker blocking in their Chrome extension to also block FLoC interactions on websites. This is directly in line with the single purpose of their extension of protecting your privacy holistically as you use your browser. It’s privacy, simplified. (If you use a non-Chrome browser, you can get their extension here.) The FLoC blocking feature is included in version 2021.4.8 and newer of the DuckDuckGo extension, which should auto-update, though you can also check the version you have installed from the extensions list within Chrome.

Change your Chrome and/or Google settings, which we recommend you do in any case if you continue to use Chrome. It seems (but Google isn’t very clear about this so we aren’t certain) that if you perform any of the following, then Google will exclude you from FLoC, at least for the time being. And as there are still many unknowns and things are changing rapidly, the effectiveness of these steps may change in the future.

  • Stay logged out of your Google account;
  • Don’t sync your history data with Chrome, or create a sync passphrase;
  • In Google Activity Controls, disable “Web & App Activity” or “Include Chrome history and activity from sites, apps, and devices that use Google services;”
  • In Google Ad Settings disable “Ad Personalization” or “Also use your activity & information from Google services to personalize ads on websites and apps that partner with Google to show ads.”

Note that even if you change these settings, we also highly recommend installing the DuckDuckGo Chrome extension to get holistic privacy protection when using Chrome, including private search, tracker blocking, Smarter Encryption, and Global Privacy Control. For non-Chrome desktop browsers, you can get the DuckDuckGo extension here.

Privacy Concern due to FLoC:

With FLoC, by simply browsing the web, you are automatically placed into a group based on your browsing history (“cohort”). Websites you visit will immediately be able to access this group FLoC ID and use it to target ads or content at you.

It’s like walking into a fashion store where they already know all about you! In addition, while FLoC is purported to be more private because it is a group, combined with your IP address (which also gets automatically sent to websites) you can continue to be tracked easily as an individual.

Duties of website owners:

Websites can take steps to protect the privacy of their users by opting out of FLoC, which would be applicable to all their visitors. It’s done by simply sending the following Permissions-Policy HTTP response header:

Permissions-Policy: interest-cohort=()

Some publishers like The Markup and The Guardian have already done so, as have we at Life Blow and we encourage others to follow for the privacy of their users or readers.

Conclusion:

We at Life Blow are very disappointed that, despite the many publicly voiced concerns with FLoC that have not yet been addressed, Google is already forcing FLoC upon users without explicitly asking them to opt-in.

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