Google

Google is trying to shake up how the advertising industry (and others) track people online. At the heart of the changes is a feature in Google Chrome called “Privacy Sandbox,” which Google started rolling out in early 2021.

Privacy Sandbox Is FLoC

Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short, is a cornerstone of the “privacy-first future for web advertising” that Google laid out in a blog post in January of 2021.

Google is an advertising company first and foremost. By tracking a user with a third-party tracking cookie, Google builds up a profile of the things that the user is interested in, from their favorite sports teams to who they vote for every four years. This identifier is then used to target the user with specific adverts that they’re likely to be interested in, and thus, more likely to click on.

The problem with tracking cookies is that they identify each user as a unique token. While the identity of the user isn’t necessarily disclosed, each user is treated as a unique entity by the search giant, albeit exclusively for advertising purposes. FLoC aims to change this fundamental aspect of online advertising.

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Instead of tracking users via a tracking cookie, FLoC runs on the browser side and analyzes a user’s online behavior locally. Using this browser history, Chrome monitors your browsing activity and places you in a “cohort” of other users with similar tastes and habits. Chrome then reports that cohort to websites that take advantage of FLoC.

In other words, rather than letting third-party websites track your browsing activity with third-party cookies, Chrome itself will track your browsing activity—locally—and tell the websites that you visit what type of advertising you might be interested in.

As you might imagine, organizations like the EFF think that this approach has its own privacy problems. FLoC is controversial. As of May 2021, no other browser developers have announced plans to implement it.

How to Disable (or Enable) Privacy Sandbox

By default, the “Privacy Sandbox” trial option is on for all Chrome users. This doesn’t mean that FLoC is enabled for your Chrome browser, but it does mean that Google might enable FLoC for your Chrome browser at any time. In early 2021, Google had enabled FLoC for .5% of Chrome users in regions like Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United States.

You can opt out of the Privacy Sandbox (FLoC) by changing a simple setting inside Google Chrome.

To do this, launch Chrome and click menu > Settings.

Click menu > Settings.

Select “Privacy and Security” on the left, and then click “Privacy Sandbox” under Privacy and Security.

Click "Privacy and security" and click "Privacy sandbox."

Disable the “Privacy Sandbox” toggle to opt out of the Privacy Sandbox (also known as FLoC).

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(To disable the option, make sure that it’s gray and on the left instead of blue and on the right.)

Opt Out of Google Chrome Privacy Sandbox

Now, your Chrome browser won’t ever join the FLoC trial. However, when Google rolls out the Privacy Sandbox as a stable feature to all Chrome users, it may be reenabled at that time. We’ll just have to see what happens.

Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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