Google’s new ad tracking tool called into question by rival search engine

That method, called the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), has not gone down well, at least with the search firm’s rival DuckDuckGo (DDG).

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Google’s ad tracking has invited criticism from privacy advocates around the world. To address it, the search giant said it would phase out third-party cookies and introduce a new privacy-focussed tracking method.

That method, called the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), has not gone down well, at least with the search firm’s rival DuckDuckGo (DDG). The alternate search engine says that Google’s FLoC is already in Chrome and automatically turned on for millions of users. Any website can get a group FLoC ID, and target and fingerprint users.

FLoC groups users based on interests and demographics, which is developed from user browsing history, to enable advertising without third-party cookies.

“FLoC is simply not good for privacy. It does behavioural tracking by default, and there is no such thing as a behavioural tracking mechanism imposed without consent that respects people’s privacy,” Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and founder of DDG, said in a statement.

“That’s why if Google insists on moving forward with FLoC, they should make it explicitly opt-in for all users (free of dark patterns).”

DuckDuckGo also noted that digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) called Google’s new method a “terrible idea” and implored it to not do it.

Apart from outrightly suggesting Google users to stop using the company’s browser, DDG also said its own web search engine can help people avoid FLoC in Chrome browser. DDG Search is configured to opt-out of FLoC, even if users use its extension or app.

DDG also recommends users to stay logged out of Google account, not sync history data with Chrome, and to disable services like “web & app activity”, “ad personalisation”, “also use your activity & information from Google services to personalize ads on websites and apps that partner with Google to show ads”. This can be changed under settings in Google accounts.

“It seems (but Google isn’t very clear about this so we aren’t certain) that if you perform any of the following, then Google will exclude you from FLoC, at least for the time being,” DuckDuckGo said in a blog post.

DuckDuckGo suggested website owners to opt out of FLoC by simply sending the following Permissions-Policy HTTP response header: Permissions-Policy: interest-cohort=(). It said some publishers like The Markup and The Guardian have already done so.

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