Google risking anti-competitive and antitrust investigations in the U.S. with retiring Cookies: Is FLoC offering undue advantage to search giant?

Google FloC Cookies
Google FLoC is not good for online advertising companies? Pic credit: Photo Mix/Pixabay

Google may be risking an antitrust lawsuit in the United States. Although there are no formal announcements yet, reports indicate there are concerns with the search giant’s use of Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC after retiring Cookies.

Google may have an unfair advantage after it retires Cookies. After these tiny bits of information are laid to rest, Google will start using FLoC, and that could leave all advertising companies behind.

Google retiring Cookies in favor of FLoC and will send across Cohort ID to advertisers:

Google has confirmed it is retiring Cookies. For quite a few decades, advertisers have relied on Cookies for sending targeted promotional messages.

After Google retires Cookies, the search giant has indicated it will rely on Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC. The new system is radically different from Cookies.

Cookies reside on the users’ computers. Moreover, every advertiser has access to these tiny snippets of information.

Google’s FLoC is rather complicated to explain in detail. However, the search giant won’t collect, collate, and offer all the data about user’s browsing habits. Basically, the company won’t build individual profiles of the users based on their interests, age group, etc.

Google Chrome will collect the data that Cookies collected, locally. However, it would then attach users to a group, or cohort.

Cohorts are essentially a large group of users with similar interests. Hence, in theory, instead of individual Advertising ID, Google will share only the Cohort ID.

Google has maintained that FLoC, along with Cohort ID, will obfuscate individually identifiable, and hence, targetable, data. Nonetheless, advertisers could still offer some level of targeted advertising to a large group of people with similar interests.

Google retiring Cookies will give the company, unfair and exclusive ownership over user data, fear the US DoJ?

Google’s solution promises targeted advertising without exposing an individual user’s information. However, advertisers’ primary concern appears to be Google’s ownership or access to core user data, to which they will not have access to.

Advertisers rightly point out Google has several additional ways to identify users. Google Chrome, Gmail, and other platforms are direct sources of user data.

Google may be locking out online advertising companies from more personally-identifiable and direct data that would help them with targeted ads. While advertisers will have the Cohort ID, Google could continue to have access to individual user data.

A Chrome user signing in with their Google account could continue giving Google a way to link specific activity to that user. Meanwhile, advertisers have to contend with obfuscated data for advertising available through FLoC.

Reports indicate there are growing concerns not just about this preferential and partial treatment but also that user privacy isn’t all that safeguarded. All the information in Google’s hands would invariably give the company a major advantage over its competitors.

Google Chrome continues to remain the leader in the web browser market. And Google plans to phase out Cookies by 2022 could mean a large portion of internet users, and more specifically their data would be out of other advertisers’ reach.

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