Google rival and one of the biggest advocate of internet privacy, DuckDuckGo has come up with a tool to help you circumvent the Alphabet-owned search engine’s new tracking algorithm for serving targeted ads.
What is it? Let’s find out.
DuckDuckGo has introduced a new Chrome browser extension that blocks Federated Learning of Cohorts, aka FLoC, Google’s supposed pro-privacy replacement for third-party cookies that track individuals across the internet.
Google’s proposed FloC is an alternative and ideal ad-buying method that offers greater anonymity to its users. It conceals their browsing activity within a group or cohort of other anonymised users having similar browsing habits.
But that being said, while the proposition sounds good in theory, there exists a few problems with FloC. The idea of ‘hiding’ a user within a group is no doubt better for user privacy at large, but websites will still be able to target users with ads that on the ‘FloC ID’ assigned to them.
What is FloC ID? It is a summary of interests and demographic information related to a user’s browsing habits. With this newly minted ad-buying method, websites can still track individuals because when a user visits a particular website, their IP address will get recorded.
And this is where DuckDuckGo’s new Chrome extension comes in handy. Currently. FloC is only limited to Google Chrome and has not been rolled out en masse. The Alphabet-owned search giant has plans to begin trialling the FLoC-based cohorts with advertisers starting Q2.
DuckDuckGO’s new extension blocks the FloC algorithm, similar to how DuckDuckGo Search is configured to opt out of the same.
Google has been working on a replacement for third-party cookies for quite some time. In one of its blogs posted in January, the company mentioned how FloCs are one of the few methods the search giant is looking at implementing as part of its ‘Privacy Sandbox‘ for the web.
Google claims that the FloC algorithms are at least 95% as effective as cookie-based advertising when it comes to letting advertisers and marketers target users, but at the same time, they are pro-privacy as well. Therefore, it is a win-win deal for users, publishers and advertisers alike.
However, not everyone is entirely sold on the idea. Many have pointed out that the introduction of FloC does not phase out the threat of online fingerprinting fully as cohort IDs will be easily accessible by any third-party trackers used by the websites visited by users.
In response to that, Google has ensured that they are working hard to make sure sensitive categories such as religion, identity, race, sexual interests and so on cannot be used to target ads to users.
Nonetheless, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, aka EFF, a digital rights group, is still not convinced and argues that Google’s precautionary measure does not go far enough.
In a blog post, the organisation said that the search giant’s proposal rests on the assumption that individuals in ‘sensitive categories’ will visit ‘sensitive’ websites. And that those who aren’t in those groups will stay away from such sites.
“But behaviour correlates with demographics in unintuitive ways. It’s highly likely that certain demographics are going to visit a different subset of the web than other demographics are, and that such behaviour will not be captured by Google’s ‘sensitive sites’ framing,” the EFF further added.
Thus, it is well understood that there is no escaping Google’s web when it comes to receiving highly targeted ads even though a particular method is being peddled as a pro-privacy alternative.
As of now, the main ways of blocking FloC and other similar Google algorithms include avoiding the use of Google Chrome entirely, remaining logged out from one’s account on the browser while using it, or switching off ad personalisation within Google Ad settings.
Are you thinking of using the new DuckDuckGO plugin for yourself? Let us know in the comments down below. We will keep you updated on all future developments. Until then, stay tuned.