While Google’s FLoC must replace third-party cookies, many tech players will or plan to oppose the device. Whether they are browsers or big names in digital, there is no shortage of refractories, like arguments.
For several weeks now, the start of FLoC tests, outside the European Union for the moment, has made many tech players react. Among them: web browsers, the main ones affected by the advertising tracking system of tomorrow, the one that Google would like to impose, instead of third-party cookies. Mozilla, Microsoft Edge, Safari, Brave, Vivaldi, Opera, or DuckDuckGo have almost all given their opinion on the mechanism. And often, this one is decided. Others, like the WordPress CMS, keep the suspense going. On the French side, Qwant has not yet officially taken a position, but the rumors of the corridors let us know that the privacy-friendly browser should oppose the mechanism.
FLoC: what are we talking about already?
FloC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) is the device devised by Google to take over from third-party cookies, the disappearance of which is scheduled for 2022 at the latest. To replace third-party cookies, based on very intrusive individual tracking, Google has bet on FloC, a mechanism that advocates collective tracking. “The idea is to group people with similar browsing habits into large groups, or ‘cohorts’,” explained Chetna Bindra in our introductory feature on FloC. A mechanism that does not share your browsing history, neither with Google, nor with anyone else.
The FloC device is part of the Privacy Sandbox initiative. Launched in August 2019 by Google, it supports the idea of offering users better control over their personal data. And to preserve the revenues of publishers and advertisers from advertising, while better respecting the confidentiality of Internet and mobile users.
However, FloC is far from arousing the enthusiasm of other web browsers, whether it based them on Chromium (the open source version of Google’s web browser, Chrome) or not. Some consider that the device will only increase the power of the Mountain View firm in the online advertising market. Others see it as a security issue, with advertisers who could be seriously handicapped. And a dominant position of Google, which would be strengthened. If some are already ready to do without FloC, others are still hesitating, or have not yet decided. Let us distinguish between browsers, and the arguments evoked by each of them.
The power of Chromium, the open source solution of Chrome, has its impact on its FloC
In 2021 (January to April), the Chrome browser was running on 69.5% of the world’s PCs, according to data provided by NetMarketShare. Google’s tool is ahead of Microsoft Edge (11.4%), Mozilla Firefox (6.5%), Internet Explorer 11 (4.1%), and Safari (3.4%), Opera weighing only 0, 9% of the world’s computers.
Except for Mozilla, Safari and IE11, which are not based on Chromium, users who use browsers carried by Google’s open source solution account for over 80% of connected computers, which is colossal. Also, the power of Chromium continues to expand, with Microsoft pushing as many Windows computers as possible to the Edge. And we don’t count Brave and Vivaldi in the balance. DuckDuckGo and Qwant do not work on the Chromium architecture.
Therefore, assuming that Google should directly insert FloC in the Chromium code, the FloC device could become a problem for Microsoft Edge, Opera, Brave, Vivaldi or Ecosia. Note that FLoC will only be valid, for the moment, for users who accept third-party cookies.
Vivaldi, Brave and DuckDuckGo: the firm opposition
• Vivaldi: “No, Google! Vivaldi users will not receive FLoC ”
Chromium-based proprietary browser Vivaldi is strongly opposed to FLoC. On April 13, 2021, the software teams assured that they had deactivated Google’s device. “We do not approve of tracking and profiling in any guise. We will not allow our products to create local tracking profiles,” the browser said. “It’s not like a browser keeping your browsing history for you. It analyzes your personal behavior for Google. It decides which aspects of your surfing behavior are important, and if enough other people share that behavior, it assigns you the same login as everyone else. “
Two criticisms / arguments of Vivaldi regarding FLoC:
- Denunciation of the cohort principle, with greater exposure of user data. Google can “see that anyone who buys certain medical products appears to belong to (FLoC) group 1324,98744 or 19287 (…). So if you have one of those FLoC IDs, they can display advertisements for that product, even if you’d prefer to keep that medical condition to yourself ”.
- A threat to user safety. “FLoC has very serious implications for people who live in an environment where aspects of their personality are persecuted – whether it’s sexuality, politics, or religion. All of them can be part of your FLoC username (…). It is no longer about confidentiality. He crosses the personal security line.”
👉 “ The browser will not support and disable the FLoC API, regardless of its implementation.”
Note that in version 3.8, Vivaldi, which already blocks advertisers and trackers, has inserted the possibility of blocking services that display or hide consent windows for cookies. A feature to be activated manually.
Brave: “A step in the wrong direction”
The privacy-friendly browser, also based on Chromium, intends to oppose the dissemination of FLoC to its users.
Two criticisms / arguments of Brave regarding FLoC:
- A danger for sites and publishers. “The default FLoC behavior will disclose and share user behavior on your site, which will hurt sites that have high trust or highly private relationships with their users,” Brave claims.
- Affirms that FLoC informs sites and third parties about your browsing history. Brave indicates that the mechanism will share information on users’ browsing behavior, with sites and advertisers that should not normally have access to it.
Brave’s decision :
👉 Brave reported on April 12 that they had removed FLoC from the Nightly version of the browser for Android and PC. The browser has removed all implementation details of FLoC, and has also disabled Google’s feature from all of its websites, “to protect Chrome users who discover Brave.”
DuckDuckGo: “FLoC is bad for privacy. “
DuckDuckGo does not have to get rid of FLoC in its code, since they do not base the search engine on Chromium. But he still has to take the lead, if users of Chrome or another Chromium browser tolerant of the device use DuckDuckGo. On April 9, the engine’s publisher promised to block FLoC, by default, on all devices that use DuckDuckGo as an engine.
👉 The engine offers its users to try the latest version of its Chrome extension, DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials. This blocks FLoC interactions on websites. They directly included the device blocking function since version 2021.4.8 of the DuckDuckGo extension.
Qwant: no official position but…
The French search engine, whose opposition we can not be more firm to Google, has not yet officially communicated on the subject FLoC. But Clubic thinks that the company will challenge the device. Qwant would particularly fear the anti-competitive aspect of Google’s mechanism, which would add additional barriers to entry into the advertising market. But we are still waiting for an official speech.
Mozilla, Edge and Opera: time for hesitation
• Mozilla Firefox politely refuses FLoC… for now
The third most powerful browser in terms of market share, Mozilla Firefox is bound to have its say. And this one matters. As you know, they do not base the Foundation tool on Chromium, which can make it easier for it to clear FLoC. However, Mozilla’s position does not yet seem final. “We are currently evaluating much privacy-preserving advertising proposals, including those put forward by Google, but we have no plans to implement them.”
This keeps the suspense going. While Mozilla has already implemented enhanced tracking protection by default, which allows it to block over 10 billion trackers per day, the browser does not close the door completely. “Advertising and privacy can coexist. And the advertising industry may operate differently from what it has done in recent years. We are eager to play a role in finding solutions to build a better web,” he officially explains.
Microsoft Edge: neither yes nor no, the browser is still thinking
The second most used browser in the world, Microsoft Edge, which recently switched to Chromium, has not yet released an official statement to comment on FLoC. The only trace of a reaction from the American company can be found among our colleagues at The Verge . And here again, Microsoft maintains the vagueness. For the moment, therefore, we do not know if the giant will do without or with FLoC.
• Opera: a trend towards no but… no final decision
Much like Mozilla and Edge, Opera is groping. The browser, which has been based on Chromium for 8 years, has not yet decided either. A staunch supporter of preserving the privacy of its users, Opera welcomes the announced end of third-party cookies. The browser does not plan to enable FLoC or any equivalent functionality. “However, we believe it is too early to say in which direction the market will evolve or what the main browsers will do,” says the Norwegian company.
• Safari: radio silence
Like other browsers (Mozilla or Edge), Safari has already implemented anti-cookie filters. But Apple’s browser has taken no official position.
WordPress, GitHub, Epic Games, Discord, Wikipedia…: when the tech community steps in
On the WordPress side, the WP community (a developer more exactly) called on the CMS to do without FLoC, which caused significant movements within it. Many believed that the site editor’s management team had spoken. But for the moment, it has not delivered its position.
Another major player to oppose FLoC: GitHub. The open source code hosting platform proclaims its opposition to Google’s device by inserting, since the end of April, a small banner, a http header which proclaims the prohibition of FLoC, without ever naming the device. This is equivalent, therefore, to a default deactivation, confirmed by the CEO of GitHub, Nat Friedman. The header is present on all the addresses attached to the domain .github.com and to the GitHub pages, which host the sites.
One of the latest players to take a stand against FLoC is neither more nor less than the Internet’s reference library: Wikipedia. Many other names in digital or tech, such as Epic Games, Discord, The Guardian, Siemens, Yoast, 1password, OpenStreetMap.fr, La Quadrature du Net, have taken a stand against the device, according to the list communicated by Plausible Analytics.
More than 450 actors on the web have already said no to FLoC.
How ad blocker publishers view FLoC?
It’s interesting to have ad blockers’ eyes on the situation and the FLoC device. The German company Eyeo, which publishes Adblock Plus and Adblock Browser in particular, has agreed to answer our questions.
Regarding this outcry, particularly from browsers, Rotem Dar, director of media operations for the German group, believes that it is a “combination of technical and commercial reasons.” For him,
“First, FLoC is in a fairly experimental stage, with limited public understanding of the decision to segment user data. From the point of view of public awareness, it has attracted a lot of attention and the concerns of industry stakeholders and users are diverse. If you maintain a browser this layer of technology do not influence whose business model, it is in your best interest to take your time and see where the wind is blowing before activating it in your product and risking upset your user base. “
Rotem Dar explains to us why, today, many companies and browsers are placing themselves in a wait-and-see position vis-à-vis Google’s system. “The discussion of a new alternative to cookies is a positive movement,” he analyzes. “It still allows content funding and is less intrusive. I can see why browsers suspect Google for the subject.” A mistrust that seems to gain ground, even if it should not count your chickens before they hatch.