FLoC – An anti-competitive grab by Google?


I’m no FLoC expert, but is it effectively a land-grab by Google to exclusively own more tracking data?

3rd party cookies are arguably an open technology that other players can use. FLoC seems to concentrate knowledge and meaning of its cohort IDs within Google. Is that the case?

Discussion of FLoC needs to be clear about whether FLoC is (usefully) open, or if it concentrates tracking intelligence within fewer big organizations or perhaps only within Google.

Comments (12)

12 responses to “FLoC – An anti-competitive grab by Google?”

  1. navarac

    Would commend you to see Steve Gibson's view of FLoC on Security Now (TWiT Network) on Tuesday 20 April. A more reasonable approach to some of the knee jerk reactions.


    • ianw789

      In reply to navarac:

      That, like most discussions, focuses on privacy, profiling, etc. What is still unclear to me is on the advertisers side: who builds that set of cohorts, and sells those insights? Is it exclusively Google? Is it feasible for anyone else to use FLoC without Google?

      • wright_is

        In reply to ianw789:

        The cohort is calculated in the browser and is available to any site you visit to call up.

        Sites can refuse to look up the id and they can tell the browser to not use this site to calculate the FLoC.

        The user can't choose, unless they use a browser that doesn't support FLoC or they use a FLoC blocker.

        Any site and any ad server can build up their own FLoC lists to sell against.

        • ianw789

          In reply to wright_is:

          Thank you for the very helpful reply.

          So, if I follow correctly, I could in theory run my own ad network. I could even have Google Chrome take the user's browsing history (specifically just within sites that use _my_ ad network) combined with more general FLoC data from _my_ servers, to generate a FLoC ID for this user for _my_ ad network. Then, in turn, a site that uses _my_ ad network can ask for that ID to enable it to display more relevant ads.

          • wright_is

            In reply to ianw789:

            The FLoC ID won't be calculated just on your sites, but any site without a blocker that the user visits. But otherwise, in essence, yes.

            The problem is, Google might just use the FLoC ID and collect nothing else (I highly doubt it), but other networks could use it as an added signal in their fingerprinting. Its one benefit is that it is constantly being re-evaluated and your FLOC ID will change every 7 days - whether that is 7 days from first using a specific device or every Sunday, for example, I'm not sure, I would assume the former, so everybody's FLoC IDs will be changing at different times.

            • ianw789

              In reply to wright_is:

              Thank you again! It sounds like FLoC is feasible for smaller players too, so long as they can get past some practical minimum threshold of their ad network size. If it does go ahead, it will be interesting to see if in practice FLoC is a barrier to entry that protects Google.

              The cynic in me suspects that Google would have thought this through, and they designed it to be advantageous to their interests. We will see...

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yeah, that's what Chamberlain said about the reaction to Hitler, too. "Kneejerk." :)
  2. fpalmieri

    I don't think this is super complicated - FLoC is just another way to track users and puts the "control" in Google's hands through their browser and their backend systems to sell ads to its customers, while eliminating 3rd Party cookies (which are bad so a good target for Google as well as used by thier remaining feeble competition so helps them squash the competitors). Ads don't need to be more personalized than any of the other existing mediums (newspapers, magazines, TV, etc.). If I'm browsing Golf Digest, an ad for golf clubs or vacations at a golf resort or maybe Omaha steaks make sense. I especially don't want to see ads for stuff I already bought because they think I might buy more (I don't need 70 washers and dryers) and I don't want to share my browser history with anyone. I've got no real problem with advertising - it makes the world go round. I don't like something that tracks me and isn't needed to sell ads.

    • samp

      In reply to fpalmieri:
      I especially don't want to see ads for stuff I already bought because they think I might buy more

      That hits hard - 70% of my ads are for software I would never consider getting, and most of the rest are ads for stuff that I already bought, and a tiny minority that actually catch my attention or totally random (previously cars, now military equipment, and FWB?‍♂️).

  3. wright_is

    Any website, and therefore any ad server can call up the FLoC ID. That means any site you visit and any advertiser can call up your FLoC and serve your ads based on it.

    It isn't a third party cookie, it isn't personalised, but it still provides information.

    It is the lesser of two evils, being less evil doesn't make it good...

    • Paul Thurrott

      Right. The way I described this on Windows Weekly is that it's like choosing between getting shot in the shoulder or kicked between the legs. Maybe one of those is better. But neither is what you want.
  4. locust_infested_orchard_inc.

    FLoC can go FLoCK off. ? ? ?