Facebook has attracted an outsized share of attention this week over the way it tracks its users’ activity, with that scrutiny coming as a result of Apple rolling out iOS 14.5 on Monday — a highly anticipated new update to Apple’s mobile operating software that will crack down on this type of tracking activity. However, Google has also been making news along these same lines, part of a privacy/user tracking headache all its own.
We’ve written on a number of occasions already this month that Google was launching a test of new technology in Google Chrome called FLoC, which stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. It’s ostensibly meant to let Chrome improve the anonymity of users — which is something Google vowed to do a few weeks ago, via a movie to stop allowing advertisers to track users online with third-party cookies. However, Chrome will do this via FLoC while also still collecting some users’ browsing data for advertising purposes. What struck many people as particularly frustrating is that even though Google said it would test this as part of a limited pilot run before rolling it out fully, the search giant didn’t offer a straightforward way to opt out of the testing.
Of course, this is all complicated by the fact that, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes in a commentary it penned entitled “Google’s FLoC is a Terrible Idea” –“No one should mourn the death of the cookie as we know it,” given that this creepy tracking mechanism has “been the (linchpin) in a shadowy, seedy, multi-billion dollar advertising-surveillance industry on the Web.” If you want to see whether Google is testing FLoC on you, you can head right now over to https://amifloced.org, which is a website that the EFF created which requires you to just press one button on the site to see if you’re unwittingly among the user browsers this is being tested on.
Meantime, the folks at Malwarebytes have published a quick walk-through for people who want to opt out of this testing — and you should definitely want to do so. “FLoC, along with many other elements of Google’s ‘Privacy Sandbox’ proposal, are a step backward from more fundamental, privacy-and-user focused changes the Web needs,” write Peter Snyder and Brendan Eich, senior privacy researcher and CEO of the privacy-forward web browser Brave. “Instead of deep change to enforce real privacy and to eliminate conflicts of interest, Google is proposing Titanic-level deckchair-shuffling that largely maintains the current, harmful, inefficient system the Web has evolved into, a system that has been disastrous for the Web, users and publishers.”
Follow these steps if you want to opt-out:
- For starters, you can always go the nuclear route and just … stop using Google Chrome, switching to an alternative browser, instead.
- A step up from that, in terms of a little more inconvenience for some people, is the choice you have to simply download DuckDuckGo’s browser extension for Google Chrome. According to DuckDuckGo, it has “enhanced the tracker blocking in (its) Chrome extension to also block FLoC interactions on websites.”
- Additionally, you can also disable third-party cookies from within Google Chrome. To do so, from the URL bar you’ll need to head to chrome://settings. From your preferences, click on “Privacy and security,” then “Cookies and other site date, ” and then “Block third-party cookies.”