FLoC Explained: A Guide for Marketers.
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FLoC Explained: A Guide for Marketers

Google ended the development of FLoC in 2021. In January 2022, Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative released the Topics API proposal to address interest-based advertising. We've left this article as-is to provide historical context for the journey to first-party cookies coming in 2024.

The news that Google Chrome and others will no longer support third-party cookies by second half 2024 has taken the advertising world by storm. Fortunately (or so we hope), Google has begun testing a third-party cookie alternative called FLoC. FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts and is currently being tested across North American and Asia-Pacific regions. Learn about the benefits of FLoC, the potential setbacks, and how to prepare to use this tracking system. 

Pros and Cons of FLoC

FLoC is not the only third-party cookie alternative currently being developed, but it is the one with the most momentum and promise. Even still, there are numerous pros and cons to consider. 

Pros of Using FLoC

User identity is protected 

The move away from third-party tracking came as a response to the need for increased security for internet users who don’t want their information stored or used. With this in mind, a pro of FLoC is that it is designed in a way so advertisers don’t have access to individuals but rather groups of individuals called cohorts. These cohorts are groups of people with similar online behaviors and do not identify users individually. 

Advertisers gain actionable insights from cohorts

Because these cohorts are grouped by online activity, habits, browsing history, and behavior, advertisers can still use information from the cohorts to serve relevant ads to groups of people (without knowing who the people actually are). 

Cons of Using FLoC

Fingerprinting is a big concern

Although FLoC is designed with increased user privacy in mind, some setbacks still might arise. One of these is increased fingerprinting. Google has mentioned that cohorts will comprise thousands of people. However, this doesn’t mean a tracker cannot identify an individual user. With enough data, a tracker can gather information to create a unique identifier for a specific internet user over time.

FLoC reveals more about a user than other tracking options

Additionally, while it may sound like a user is more protected under FLoC, that might not be the case. Even if a user has never visited a specific website, it doesn’t mean that website isn’t informed about their browsing history. Because users are in a cohort, if other cohort members visit particular sites, those sites gain information about all users in that cohort. While this might be beneficial for advertisers, it is concerning for users who want to protect their privacy.

How to Test Ads With FLoC

FLoC is currently being tested on a small percentage of users across these territories: Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, and the United States. Users were not notified as to whether or not they are part of this test group, but Google mentioned an option for opting out of testing if desired. While not all companies can test ads with FLoC during this testing period, there are ways to get involved, which Google outlines here. 

How to Prepare to Use FLoC for Your Advertisements

One of the best ways to fully prepare to use FLoC for advertising is to participate in discussions and trials around FLoC and all other Privacy Sandbox proposals. First things first, stay up to date with the current trials, so you understand what is working, what’s not, and what Google is doing to improve its system prior to its launching.

Next, familiarize yourself with all of the Privacy Sandbox proposals. While FLoC is one solution to data tracking and advertising, other proposals within Google’s initiative may affect you now or in the future. You can dive into what those proposals mean for users and marketers here. 

You can also participate in discussion groups and conversations with industry representatives about FLoC and other proposals. From getting your questions answered to advocating for use cases, you can be as involved as you want in discussion groups. Three groups Google suggests are the Improving Web Advertising Business Group, the Privacy Community Group, and the Web Platform Incubator Community Group. 

Lastly, developers can experiment with FLoC and provide feedback about their experience. To test in Chrome, use the feature flags (chrome://flags) to enable this feature in your browser. Doing so gives you the ability to test how Google’s Privacy Sandbox solutions work. However, developers need to register to participate in the early trials of FLoC and other proposed solutions to test these features on real users and live scenarios. Here is a list of active trials should you or your team wish to become more involved. 

As an advertiser, the most important thing to do right now is to continue learning about FLoC and the additional solutions proposed by Google and others. And be sure to visit the AdRoll blog for more updates and information about the transition away from third-party cookies.