Google is currently in the process of testing and refining its FLoC machine learning algorithm on millions of Chrome users. The system would profile users into groups based on their browsing history, and then offer this group ID to websites to advertise against.
Google is offering the technology up as a privacy improvement on tracking by 3rd party cookies, but instead, it appears to be a vehicle for selling a very accurate profile of the user to advertisers without any way to opt-out, especially because it is built into the browser.
15 attorneys general have already accused the company of trying to put its “Chrome browser at the center of tracking and targeting,” and the EFF has not been too impressed either, saying it actually reduces user’s anonymity and makes fingerprint easier for websites.
Now privacy champion DuckDuckGo has announced that it has released an update to their browser plugin which would block FLoC, saying:
If you’re a Google Chrome user, you might be surprised to learn that you could have been entered automatically into Google’s new tracking method called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). It groups you based on your interests and demographics, derived from your browsing history, to enable creepy advertising and other content targeting without third-party cookies. After a short trial period, Google decided not to make this new tracking method a user choice and instead started automatically including millions in the scheme.
In response to Google automatically turning on FLoC, we’ve enhanced the tracker blocking in our Chrome extension to also block FLoC interactions on websites. This is directly in line with the single purpose of our extension of protecting your privacy holistically as you use your browser. It’s privacy, simplified.
DuckDuckGo is also opting their search website out of contributing to FLoC’s profiling.
Ultimately DuckDuckGo’s first recommendation is to switch to an alternate browser (hello Edge) but if that is not possible, you can get the DuckDuckGo plugin here (pending its approval by the Google Chrome Store).