In an effort to support data privacy, Google recently announced that it’s working on a secure way to track users called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).
But it’s not secure enough for everybody in Big Tech.
Some folks are writing code to block it.
And developers at WordPress have jumped on the #NeverFLoC bandwagon as well.
In this article, I’ll explain what’s going on.
Data Privacy: What Is FLoC?
If you’ve just joined us here in Digital Marketing Land, you might need a quick primer on FLoC.
I’ll give you the skinny.
But that’s a problem for online advertisers because those of us in this biz like to target our ads to people in a specific market. After all, we don’t want to run ads for cat food to people who only own chinchillas.
In the past, digital marketers harvested data via third-party cookies. We’d use that info to identify people who liked cat food, for instance.
FLoC takes a different path. It gives users some level of anonymity by “hiding” them in a group.
In other words, a person isn’t an individual in cyberspace. Instead, a person belongs to a group of other people who share common interests.
So instead of third-party cookies giving us “John Smith likes to buy cat food,” FLoC gives us 3,000 people who all like to buy cat food.
With no other details about each individual in that group.
But Not Everybody Is Happy
So Google is taking extra precautions to ensure that it respects its users’ data privacy concerns. That’s going to go over well with the rest of the Big Tech community, right?
Some folks still think Google is snooping. Even with the crowd-based solution.
DuckDuckGo, for example, will block FLoC.
Other Google competitors, like Brave and Vivalda, have also jumped on the “Say No to FLoC” bandwagon.
And the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called FLoC a “terrible idea.”
Now there’s some chatter that WordPress might block FLoC as well.
Let me be clear here: as of this writing, WordPress has made no decision on the matter. Management is currently considering its options.
Data Privacy Concerns
Some folks there think that FLoC should be handled with an update to address security threats. But some folks aren’t on board with that:
Google may treat this as a security update and risk abusing user trust in automatic updates. To call it a security update may appear to be intentionally misusing the term in order to roll it out via automatic updates.
The implicit contract with users for security auto-updates is that they are used in order to protect the user from their site, being compromised imminently.
This isn’t the case with FLoC, as it addresses data privacy concerns, leaving the possibility of causing damage to the site’s behavior in some cases.
And some in the user community are against the idea of blocking FLoC.
“Can someone even explain, providing concrete facts not just assumptions, as to how having a browser be part of a group of hundreds of thousands of similar other browsers for a week is a security threat?” asked one user.
And another asked: “Should WordPress block ALL third-party tracking cookies like Facebook too?”
That’s a good question.
Wrapping It Up
Let me emphasize again: WordPress has as of yet made no decision about blocking FLoC.
But if the company even gives its website owners the option to do so, that’s going to make it more difficult for Google to collect data.
And that’s going to make it more challenging for digital marketers like you and me to target people based on interest.
So keep an eye on this one. It has big ramifications.