Following Google's rumored user privacy tracking with its online ads, the company has vowed to stop it by introducing a system called FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), which improves users' anonymity while still collecting their browsing data for advertising purposes. However, the company did not release an official way for users to know if the system has been applied into their browsing experience.
With that said, many have opposed and criticized Googlefor its FLoC system and noted that the feature still harms user's privacy. One of these is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that has put up a website dedicated to informing users if their devices have been FLoCed.
The "Am I FLoCed?" Website From EFF
According to BGR, Google has rolled out the FLoC feature to 0.5 percent of Google users worldwide, such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the U.S. The Am I FLoCed? website by the EFF can identify if the user's browser has the FLoC feature from Google.
The said site would then inform users if they are part of the 0.5 percent that has the FLoC system enabled. Users may encounter a message like the one below if their Google Chrome is without the FLoC feature from the company.
The EFF website noted that the Chrome origin trial for FLoC has been deployed to millions of random Chrome users without warning. The website provides information if the user's browser is one of the millions worldwide with the feature enabled. The website added that one way to avoid FLoC to their Google browser is to switch to another web browser such as Microsoft Edge, Opera or DuckDuckGo, and more if users feel violated by this.
According to the EFF website, the Google FLoC features an algorithm called SimHash to calculate the user's FLoC ID. The system currently uses the list of domains users have visited in the past seven days as input and recalculates the FLoC ID once a week.
Once the FloC ID has been calculated, users are then assigned to a group of similar people with similar search histories worldwide. This grouping would allow personalized advertising to continue without necessarily targeting individual users, and FLoC should add a layer of anonymity. In contrast, Google will not share personal data from the user to others. However, the EFF thinks people can combine FLoC data with other techniques to fingerprint users.
If users are not willing to delete Chrome and switch to another browser, regularly checking the EFF website can inform them if they are added to the Google FLoC program. However, the risk of getting user's data by using Google Chrome is still high, and there is a high chance that Google tracks user's privacy as we speak.
DuckDuckGo Blocks Google's FLoC System
In other news, SlashGear also reported that DuckDuckGo, a private search engine, has taken a bold step over Google as the search engine blocks the tech giant's FLoC system. It is updating its Chrome web extension to block FLoC interactions in addition to tracking cookies. DuckDuckGo also said that it opts out FLoC by default, regardless if users have the extension or not.
Besides that, the publication reported that there have been accusations that Google is using its favorable position in the web browser market to give it an advantage in the advertising platform since FLoC and its advertising benefits only work on Chrome anyway.