Brave is Blocking Google FLoC

Posted on April 12, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Web browsers, Google with 20 Comments

Brave announced today that it is working to disable Google’s new Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) tracking method. It’s currently blocking FLoC tracking in the Nightly versions of Brave on desktop and Android, and it will push that change into the stable versions in the weeks ahead.

“FLoC materially harms user privacy under the guise of being privacy-friendly,” Brave’s Peter Snyder and Brendan Eich explain. “FLoC tells sites about your browsing history, [it] makes it easier for sites to track you across the web, [and it] promotes a false notion of what privacy is, and why privacy is important.”

For those unfamiliar, FLoC is a Google proposal in which your browser will share your browsing behavior and interests with every website and advertiser with which you interact. But the online giant is promoting it as being more privacy-friendly than the current system in which advertisers use third-party cookies and other trackers to follow users around the web.

But as I wrote in a recent article about a DuckDuckGo browser extension that also blocks FLoC, Google is being deceptive about this technology, which is really just a new way to track users and report that information back to advertisers. And like DuckDuckGo and now Brave, I strongly recommend that all users do what they can do to block FLoC, just as they hopefully block tracking today. It is, as Brave says, just a “Titanic-level deckchair-shuffling.”

“Any new privacy-risking features on the web should be opt-in,” Brave notes. “This is a common-sense principle to respect Web users by default. One might wonder why Google isn’t making FLoC opt-in. We suspect that Google has made FLoC opt-out (for sites and users) because Google knows that an opt-in, privacy harming system would likely never reach the scale needed to induce advertisers to use it.”

I strongly recommend reading the Brave blog post, which makes an excellent case for blocking FLoC.

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Comments (20)

20 responses to “Brave is Blocking Google FLoC”

  1. txag

    I read the Brave blog post today; I’ll join Paul in recommending it. Clear and to the point on why browsers should block this intrusive process.

  2. hbko

    It's difficult to grasp how a concept like FLoC managed to rally enough support so that it's actually released in a major browser. I understand that Google (ad company) is looking after their business priorities but it prompts the question if browser vendors are sufficiently accountable for the "extra" features they ship to consumers (especially the ones with large market share).

    • wright_is

      In reply to hbko:

      Google's idea for new tracking is included in the browser whose commits are controlled by Google... Hardly a surprise. And hardly surprising that browsers like Brave deactivate it, as soon as it appears.

  3. kjb434

    uBlock Origin is also updating their extension for Chromium browsers and Firefox to block FLoC.

  4. basic sandbox

    On the Premium Comments side, folks are wondering about Microsoft's take on FLoC and the future with Edge.

    I wish Microsoft was a privacy brand and used it to differentiate themselves from Google. 

    1. Edge could be made to track minimally.

    2. Fork Android, cut out 90% of unneeded telemetry, create a Microsoft Android store.

    3. Make Chromebooks based on a non-tracky Edge browser.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Agree. But I guess we'll see what they do. For now, you will want Privacy Badger, the DuckDuckGo extension, or similar if you use Edge.
    • navarac

      In reply to basic sandbox:

      Difference between Microsoft and Google, is that Google is blatant about data collection, while Microsoft is almost mute about it. Be in no doubt that Microsoft "does" data collection, as do most companies and, of course, governments.

  5. ronv42

    I just tried the extension and one thing I don't like it changes the URL bar search engine to DuckDuckGo and while the extension is running you can't override it.

    • wright_is

      In reply to RonV42:

      I just tried the add-on in Firefox and Firefox still lets me select another search engine - I was already using DDG, so I don't know if it hijacks or not, but I selected Ecosia as my default and that worked fine.

      Checked in Edge and it had set DDG (Extension) and you are correct, it can't be deactivated, without deactivating the add-in.

      That said, DDG has been my standard search engine for a few years now, so I didn't notice.

      On the one hand, it is being consistent in trying to keep your privacy, on the other hand, not letting you select a different search engine is wrong. If it had selected DDG as the default, but let you switch back, I would give it a pass, after all, you have loaded the DDG add-in, but not letting you have the added protection the add-in gives, while using a different search engine is not on.

  6. christianwilson

    Has Microsoft shared their stance on FLoC support in Edge? I have settled on using Edge as my default browser everywhere, but I would consider a jump to Brave depending on how all of this unfolds.

  7. navarac

    Call my a cynic, but why worry about adverts? On TV, you can record programmes and then whizz through the adverts. Flyers and advertising through the door just get immediately thrown in the recycle bin. Any other adverts directed to me are pointedly ignored. As an "oldie", I'm immune to most of this crap anyway. We all know that "ALL" companies are trying to get our cash, even MIcrosoft, which is why Joe B was given the job to monetise Windows. Google is known for it as it is its primary business. Like the Covid jab, using Google may outweigh any downsides. They can give me adverts - I don't have to, or need to, react to them in any way at all. Whether Cookies or FLoC, "they" will always find a way, unless lawmakers ban advertising. I can't see that happening, as lawmakers tend to be on the take as well!

    • Paul Thurrott

      You're not a cynic, you don't understand the severity of the situation. This isn't just about ads, it's about the rampant tracking, the violation of your personal privacy, and the fact that this information can be used for identity theft and more.
      • navarac

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        I DO know the severity of the situation, but what can you do? Anyone who has the clout to start proceedings against big tech (governments etc) usually gets shot down for trying to control "free enterprise". China tries to control things and see what crap gets thrown at them. I'm certainly suspicious of the online world and that goes for the views expressed in the Tech Press. Fortunately, is one the most sensible - content wise.

        It is a conversation that needs to be brought to the attention of the general public, though. Most haven't got a clue, especially the young.

        • Paul Thurrott

          Thanks (and sorry if I came too harsh) ... What you can do, I guess, is care about privacy and then take steps to protect it. This is one way.
    • wright_is

      In reply to navarac:

      It isn't the advertising per se, it is the information gathering behind it.

      I don't mind sites showing me adverts, but the advertising company behind it should not collect any information on me in the process. They can profile the site I'm visiting and show me adverts based on what the site is showing me. That is probably more useful than so-called personalized advertising - which seems to just try and sell me things I've just bought!

      Bought a new dishwasher? Look, here are 20 other dishwashers you could buy for the other kitchens in your apartment! And that month, after month, after month! That is a waste of my time and it is conning money out of the advertisers, because the advertising company knows I bought a dishwasher (in this case, Amazon), so it knows I have no interest in dishwashers, but still takes the advertiser's money to show me more ads for a product I have just bought and don't need.