In November of 2018, Google announced the launch of their new transparency and accountability project known as FLoC, or “Federated Learning of Certified entities.” The purpose of this project is to create a more transparent internet by making it easier for users to see which websites are certified by Google, and which ones are not. While this may seem like a good idea in theory, there are a few potential problems with FLoC that could have a negative impact on users’ privacy. We’ll be discussing these problems in detail and giving you tips on how to protect your anonymity online.
The way that Google tracks your data is changing
Google has announced a new way of tracking your data that is set to replace traditional cookies. The new system, known as FLoC - or "Federated Learning of Compound Features" - will use machine learning to track your interests across different websites, instead of relying on cookies. What does this mean for you? Well, for starters, it's likely that Google will have a more accurate picture of your browsing habits. But even more worryingly, it could also mean a loss of anonymity and a reduction in your data privacy. So, if you're concerned about how Google is tracking your activity, it's worth taking the time to learn more about FLoC and what it could mean for your privacy.
What is FLoC?
Google's Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is a new machine learning system that, according to the company, will make it more difficult for advertisers to track users' individual behavior. FLoC is designed to work with a large number of anonymous browsers, each with its own unique identifier. By using anonymous browser data rather than identifiable user data, it is hoped that advertisers will be unable to connect user behavior with specific individuals. However, there are some potential concerns with this system. First, it's not clear how well FLoC will work in practice and whether it will be truly anonymous. Second, it's possible that cohorts with "highly sensitive content" – such as people who visit medical websites or sites that publish religious or political content – won't be used in the FLoC system. This could leave those people less protected from online tracking and profiling.
The uncertainty surrounding FLoC
One of the loudest voices against the idea of Google's FLoC is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In an article penned by Cory Doctorow, he explains that users should be able to decide what information they wish to share with each site they interact with rather than be limited to whatever Google decides to do for us. He also casts doubt on the idea that a FLoC would be a safeguard against identify theft, instead calling it a "cohort ID" that could make it easier for you to be identified too. After all, if a cohort is made up of a few thousand people like you, it's not hard to imagine that someone might be able to guess your identity.
Should I be worried about FLoC?
There's no doubt that third-party cookie tracking is bad for your privacy. It's been used to target ads and track users for years, and there's no sign of that changing any time soon. What's more uncertain, however, is whether other browsers - like our top pick Microsoft Edge - will adopt the Google FLoC technology. If they do, it could spell bad news for the average user's anonymity. Ultimately, FLoC doesn't seem like a great idea. While it's arguably no worse than traditional third-party cookie tracking, it opens up new ways for companies to track you online. If you're at all worried about your privacy, we recommend avoiding Google Chrome and using a different browser altogether.
Google's new FLoC algorithm is raising some concerns about user data privacy. While the details of how FLoC will work are still unclear, it seems that Google will now be able to track user data across all its platforms. This could have a major impact on users' anonymity and privacy, so it's important to be aware of the implications of FLoC and how to protect your data.
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