Browser cookies are a standard part of the online browsing experience, used by advertisers for more than two decades as a means of offering relevant, targeted ads to users. The end of cookies is nearly upon us, however. Google, in an attempt to move past the various data privacy issues that they have dealt with related to digital advertising, will be phasing them out of Chrome by 2023.
So, what will take their place?
What is FLoC?
The Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is Google’s new interest-based tracking tool. It uses machine learning to create cohorts of individuals who share browsing habits that are at least generally similar. It is designed to allow advertisers to continue targeting certain behaviours without the use of third-party cookies.
The browser history of users will be condensed into a brief summary of their activity on the Web. Thousands of cohorts will be created, each containing the information of thousands of these browser histories, allowing advertisers the opportunity to continue targeting groups of users, but in a manner that will provide a degree of anonymity.
Google has put FLoC forward as their solution to the privacy risks of third-party cookies and has offered the following definition to describe it: “Groups of people with common interests (which) could replace common identifiers.”
What this means, in essence, is that Google’s FLoC is a browser API (application programming interface) intended as a means of protecting the data of users while also allowing advertisers to ply their trade.
Other browsers, such as Safari and Firefox have long since banned the use of third-party cookies, but Google hesitated to do so, in the belief that to do so would not truly be a solution for privacy issues, possibly driving advertisers to adopt other methods that could be even more harmful, such as fingerprinting, which can identify users and devices without using cookies.
On the advertising side of things, the lack of cookies can result in users receiving ads that are irrelevant to them, negatively impacting the user experience.
Firefox, Safari, and other browsers like Brave, Vivaldi, and Microsoft Edge have declined to use FLoC. With neither cookies nor FLoC in use, the digital advertising of the future will no longer resemble what we are used to today. Brave, for example, has introduced Brave Ads, offering rewards to those users willing to view non-invasive ads.
Some concerns have been raised by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggesting that FLoC is actually a bad idea when it comes to privacy and user security. FLoC has your browser perform the tasks that third-party trackers currently do themselves, by having it review your browsing activity and condense it into a simple behavioural label, which can then be shared with advertisers and other websites.
While this label will not have personal identifiers, trackers may still be able to identify your browser in a cohort of thousands, rather than millions. Additionally, services like “log in with Google” can help advertisers and websites with existing user tracking match user profiles to the behaviours tracked by FLoC.
FloC Vs. Cookies
Cookies are small files that frequently contain unique identifiers that are sent to browsers, which are then sent back to the server with new pages that your browser requests. This allows websites to remember your preferences and allows insight into your online habits. Once cookies are gone, how will targeting be accomplished by advertisers?
According to Google’s Ginny Marvin, marketers will be able to use their own technology, creating seed lists that contain the most valuable FLoC IDs. FLoC will have targeting and measurement tools and other technologies made available in Google’s open-source Privacy Sandbox.
Sites that support FloC should have access to online ad tracking tools such as Google’s proposed Turtledove (in addition to other bird-themed technologies), which will make retargeting possible post-cookies and assist in using first-party data (including site visitors) to influence consumer ads.
Preparing for FLoC
Here are some steps that you can take to prepare for the release of FLoC and the end of third-party cookies:
Focus on Collecting First-Party Data
Make use of proper digital marketing tactics. By creating new email lists, or building on past efforts, you can get data directly from site visitors and potential customers. Other sources such as mobile apps, websites, and social media can also provide you with first-party data.
Inform Clients and Customers About Upcoming Changes
Let your customers know about the coming changes so that they know what to expect and what is involved.
Keep Up to Date
Because this is still in development, there are bound to be some changes between now and when FLoC comes into effect. While there is an established end goal—to eliminate third-party cookies and replace them with user behaviour tracking—how we get there is likely to evolve over the next several months.
In order to be fully prepared, keep an eye out for updates from Google concerning FLoC and their Privacy Sandbox. There are some concerns about FLoC in its current form, so be sure to seek balanced information that covers all sides.
Seek Help From a Google Ads Agency
FLoC represents a significant change, with many moving parts to keep track of and several months remaining before it comes into effect. Your best bet for keeping informed and building an appropriate strategy lies in working with a Google Ads agency that can help you navigate these critical changes.
What exactly should you expect from FLoC? How will you address such challenges as reaching clients who are not using Google, given that Safari, Firefox, and others will not be adopting it? Your Google Ad Agency partner can help you navigate these concerns.
As we move into the post-cookies world, it’s important to stay informed and remain flexible so that you can adjust and adapt as necessary.