Written by Beth Walter, Sr. Product Manager – Digital Marketing

July 07, 2021

The Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is Google’s very bad replacement for the third-party cookie. FLoC works by reviewing a person’s Chrome browsing history and grouping them with others who have executed similar searches. It then assigns everyone in that group – or “cohort” – a FLoC ID so advertisers can target them. Sounds a lot like using third-party cookies to track people across websites so that advertisers can target them, right?

Google has been running this test since January 2021. You can visit https://amifloced.org to see if you are one of the 0.5% of Chrome users FLoC is cataloguing. 

Apparently, it isn’t going very well. Apple and Microsoft have already blocked Google’s FLoC testing. Amazon has also blocked FLoC testing from all its websites, which include Amazon.com, WholeFoods.com, and Zappos.com. WordPress, the CMS platform that powers 34% of all websites, is threatening to block FLoC as well. 

To make things worse, FLoC may not even work. After all, not everything Google does is a hit. Remember Google Glass?

So, why doesn’t it work? Well, Google tells us that 15% of the searches they process are ones they’ve never seen before. And yet – the cohorts are fixed, not fluid. This means that the cohorts cannot and will not adjust and create a new category if a new product becomes wildly popular, or if a new trend captivates a particular group.

But the long and short of it is this: FLoC is simply Google’s latest effort to use people’s personal data to track their behavior for the purpose of advertising. The fact that it’s through a different method fools no one. Many are even speculating that a FLoC ID can be used to facilitate identity resolution, which is exactly what Google is trying to prevent.

Imagine you are part of FLoC ID #ABC123, which contains only a few thousand members due to the uniqueness of their browsing histories. How difficult could it really be to glean personal data such as email addresses using current identity resolution techniques from potential customers within that FLoC ID who visited your site? Not that difficult. In fact, many demand-side platforms (DSPs) are already collecting, categorizing, and testing targeting of FLoC IDs. 

It’s time to build a better mousetrap, Google.

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