First, what are cookies? For those who don’t know, they are small text files, often encrypted, placed on your phone or computer by web sites so that they can track your actions. Cookies come in two flavors. FIRST PARTY cookies are cookies placed on your device by the website that you are visiting. THIRD PARTY cookies are those cookies put on your device by others, trying to track your broader activities across websites.
While first party cookies are usually used to track what you are doing on the web site you are visiting, tracking your “state” on that site, third party cookies are used to track you as you move from site to site.
Many browsers are completely blocking third party cookies, making this method of tracking you less effective. Many users have installed blocking software like Ad Block Plus which also blocks many cookies.
Some companies are using first party cookies in a covert manner to replace third party cookies. In this case, lets say you are visiting XYZ.Com . XYZ sets up a subdomain called, lets say, TRACKME.XYZ.Com and lets the tracking company control what is in there. If a lot of companies do the same thing then these covert first party subdomains work in the same manner to track your actions. One company detected 6,000 web sites doing this.
Since Google need to protect its ad revenue, it is trying to come up with a replacement for third party cookies that will satisfy at least some privacy folks.
FLoC or Federated Learning of Cohorts is a technique that Google is about to test. Instead of tracking your individual actions, it instead categorizes your activities and puts you in a FLoC Cohort. Each cohort has an ID and advertisers can pay to show their ads to a particular cohort. Since cohorts have similar surfing patterns, maybe they have similar buying habits.
Of course, this is far from perfect and there are concerns that people could wind up being put in cohorts based on say, race or sexual orientation, since it is possible that those characteristics could have similar browsing habits.
At this point even Google doesn’t know if this will work, but you are soon become a guinea pig, whether you know it or not.
The EFF is not fond of the idea saying that websites might uniquely fingerprint FLoC users to better target ads.
Personally, I think the whole thing is a losing battle. I visit hundreds of websites a week and I cannot recall the last time I clicked on any ad. Still, it must work to some degree as companies continue to buy these ads. Credit: The Hacker News