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Google prepares to re-write FLoC as trial period comes to an end

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The original trial of Google's Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) mechanism is set to end on July 13, and the search giant has decided not to extend it, and is instead heading back to the lab to tweak it based on the feedback.

FLoC is Google’s proposed mechanism to protect individuals from being identified by unscrupulous internet marketers, without taking away all the advantages of targeted advertising.

However, the idea of lumping users into a cohort hasn’t gone down well with privacy advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who believe that FLoC is Google’s attempt to create a replacement for the third-party cookie.

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“The thing people take issue with is the passive collection and inference of their preferences. FLoC does that by default and broadcasts those to more sites because it's based on a first-party context,” said Ashkan Soltani, a privacy researcher and former Federal Trade Commission technologist in an interview with The Register.

Back to formula?

The news about Google’s decision to not extend FLoC’s trial came via Josh Karlin, senior software engineer at Google, in the development forum of Chromium’s rendering engine Blink. 

“We’ve decided not to extend this initial Origin Trial. Instead, we’re hard at work on improving FLoC to incorporate the feedback we’ve heard from the community before advancing to further ecosystem testing. More information soon,” wrote Karlin.

This comes even as the participants in the trial reportedly want Google to extend the trial.

Another development that will not go down well with privacy advocates is the revelation of Google mathematician Michael Kleber, who said that the company has no intentions of disclosing the feedback it has received from those testing the technology, reports The Register.

"The main summary of that feedback will be the next version, and you can surmise based on what features (and the reasoning for these changes) are available in the next version," said Kleber during a Web Commerce Interest Group (WCIG) meeting.

Date

09 Jul 2021

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