Early this, Google quietly began trials of ‘Privacy Sandbox’: Its planned replacement adtech for tracking cookies, as it works toward phasing out support for third-party cookies in the Chrome browser — testing a system to reconfigure the dominant web architecture by replacing individual ad targeting with ads that target groups of users (aka Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoCs), and which — it loudly contended — will still generate a fat upside for advertisers. There are several gigantic questions about this plan. Not who are non-transparently stuck into algorithmically computed interest-based buckets based on their browsing history will reduce the harms that have come to be widely associated with behavioral advertising.
Suppose your concern is online ads that discriminate against protected groups or seek to exploit vulnerable people (e.g., those with a gambling addiction). In that case, FLoCs may warning the system may amplify problems like discrimination and predatory targeting. Advertisers also query whether FLoCs will generate like-for-like revenue, as Google claims. Competition concerns are also closely dogging Google’s Privacy Sandbox, which is under investigation by UK — and has also drawn scrutiny from the US Department of Justice, as Reuters reported recently.up more of the abusive same. The EFF has, for example, called FLoCs a “terrible idea”,
Adtech players complain the shift will merely increase Google’s gatekeeper power over them by blocking their access to web users’ data even as Google can continue to track its users — leveraging that first-party data alongside a new moat theywill keep them in the dark about what individuals are doing online. (Though whether it will do that is unclear.) Antitrust is, of course, a convenient argument for the to use to strategically counter the prospect of privacy protections for individuals. But competition regulators on both sides of the pond are concerned enough over the power dynamics of that they’re taking a closer look.
And then there’s the question of privacy — which merits scrutiny, too. Google’s sales pitch for the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ is evident in its choice of the brand name — which suggests it’s keen to push the perception of a technology that protects privacy. After years of data breach and data misuse scandals, this isof value being placed on protecting personal data.
A terrible reputation now dogs the tracking industry (or the “data industrial complex”, as Apple denounces it). As a result of high-profile scandals like Kremlin-fuelled voter manipulation in the US and the demonstrable dislikehave of being ad-stalking around the Internet. (This is evident in the ever-increasing use of tracker- and ad-blockers and in the response of other that have adopted several anti-tracking measures years ahead of Google-owned Chrome).