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Google's FLoC Is Finally Here...Well...Almost

By Tony Capetola on April, 6 2021

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Tony Capetola

Tony is the VP of Marketing here at Sales & Orders, along with heading up the inbound and customer marketing teams, Tony also oversees partnerships and branding for our award-winning company and platform.

The first test run of Google's answer to third-party cookies has begun. With FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) Google aims to establish a new standard in the privacy-first web for its Chrome browser.

Last month, Google's Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust David Temkin further emphasized the company's commitment to removing support for third-party cookies for its Chrome browser - the "world's most utilized internet browser" with over 2 billion users reported as of 2020.

Coming in at a distant second to Chrome? Safari with only north of 440 million as of 2020.

Somewhat surprising as of March 30th? Google's newly proposed standard to replace third-party cookies FLoC has already launched - if only as a developer origin trial (essentially an early BETA test).

Wait, What Exactly is FLoC?

Standing for Federated Learning of Cohorts, FLoC is Google's proposed solution to the deprecation of third-party cookies. Before you can understand FLoC you must first understand third-party cookies.

Cookies are the current standard in tracking an identifying users across the internet and there are technically two specific forms most people should be familiar with:

  • First-party cookies are stored by the website you are visiting directly. They allow website owners to collect analytics data, remember language settings, and perform other useful functions that help provide a good user experience.
  • Third-party cookies are created by websites other than the one you are visiting directly, hence the name third-party. They are used for cross-site tracking, retargeting and ad-serving.

But, again, FLoC is to combat the third-party cookie more specifically and therein lies the fine print on how advertisers and publishers currently utilize them to build audiences and engage with visitors: cross-site tracking, retargeting, and ad-serving.

If you own a website, be it an ecommerce store or a blog, you are undoubtedly already employing certain codes or tools that are "third-party." Maybe the Google Analytics Tracking Code or Google Ads Remarketing Tag ring a bell?

If these third-party trackers are able to "know" who you are as an individual, FLoC's purpose is to virtually disable that capability entirely as we continue forward towards the privacy-first web:

  • Anonymity: FLoC aims to make you just another blank face in the crowd by protecting your privacy as you browse the internet. This is where the C or Cohorts of FLoC comes into play. Instead of identifying YOU specifically, FLoC seeks to categorize anyone into large groups or "cohorts" based on their behavior. 
  • Sharing: Your browsing behavior or activity will be a mystery to all with FLoC - and that includes Google. One again, instead of being able to identify you as in individual, only your cohort will be shared and only - supposedly - a numerical ID that corresponds to the cohort or cohorts you are placed in.
  • Sensitivity: FLoC will also do something quite interesting in that, specific to Chrome, will not group or cohort you should your activity be deemed "sensitive" in nature. In other words, FLoC prevents the creation of cohorts with respect to when people visit and browse sites with content or topics around such things as medical information, religion, and potentially politics as well.

With all that being said, the first true test of FLoC is now underway, taking place in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines and the U.S. The trial is expected to expand globally over time.

One thing is for certain though - Google will not be rolling FLoC testing out in Europe (and likely the UK) due to GDPR.

FLoC's Impact On Ads

We stand at the proverbial fork-in-the-road - and what lies ahead is the inevitability of the privacy-first web. It has been a long time coming.

The signs have been popping up all around us - though many have probably ignored them or at least have not weighed them for their full worth.

First there was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the UK. Then came The California Consumer Protection Act or CCPA - the first and only regulation of its kind the US.

More recently is the buzz about Apple's iOS 14 privacy standards - more specifically though is its impact on Facebook advertising

Regardless, FLoC will introduce a new way for advertisers, merchants, and marketers to effectively target and reach audiences when people are browsing from website to website.

Cohort Advertising - Display

Display ads are often single-image ad types although multi-media or animated versions are employed by advertisers as well if only less often. These ads display on websites that allow for ads to be surfaced to visitors.

Google FLoCCan you spot the ad?

While third-party cookies are to remain throughout the FLoC origin trial, trackers will now also be able to ingest FLoC IDs - this being the Cohort ID mentioned earlier, an anonymous numerical representation of one's browsing behavior.

Over 30,000 Possible Cohorts

When Google first experimented with FLoC, the number of possible cohorts was minimal. However, in the origin trial there is likely to be well over 30,000 unique cohorts that trackers will be able to ingest and reference back to website owners.

How this all is to impact targeting in one's Google advertising efforts remains to be seen.

One-to-One Advertising Unlikely To Change

Earlier in March I chimed in on Google's original post regarding the introduction of the Privacy Sandbox and how it plans to stop serving ads based on browsing behavior.

As we now know with respect to FLoC, this was simply the reinforcement of killing off the third-party cookie which could happen as early as 2022.

While I won't make any broad assumptions, reading between the lines here gives us a clue into how (or how not) this will impact certain, direct-to audience or consumer ad types.

Namely, Search and Shopping Ads, which are two of the most widely used campaign types in Google Ads, are based on keyword and search term targeting respectively.

FLoC Google

Because these ads are served directly on Google Search and other areas, that one-to-one experience shouldn't be impacted by FLoC:

  • Someone searching for something specific on Google
  • Ads surfacing based on relevance to the search query
  • Someone clicks on those ads and is directed to the advertiser's website

More To Come With FLoC

With the origin trial of FLoC is supposedly going to be running up until or through July 2021 according to some sources.

Google will undoubtedly roll out additional test runs or experiments while also advancing FLoC out beyond the select few initial countries.

We are also not all too sure on the potential impact FLoC will have on Remarketing (or retargeting).

Much, of course, remains to be seen overall...

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