The landscape of online advertising is evolving and the shift towards a more privacy-first ecosystem of FLoC marketing is dawning.

It may feel that there’s no escaping the prying eye of the web today as location services, fingerprinting and cookies keep tabs on our every search; however, Google has found a solution to monetise our browsing habits using a less invasive system. Google’s Privacy Sandbox project, announced by Chrome in August of 2019, aims to ‘build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers’. Step one meant the phase-out of third-party cookies by the end of 2021 and introducing a safer and more secure, less invasive advertising tool.

Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC, aims to protect the individual user’s identity and data while allowing publishers to continue to provide personalised, data-driven privacy-first advertising.  An alternative to cookies, FLoC analyses your browsing behaviour to group you with like-minded people (a cohort). The individual user continues to experience targeted and relevant advertising whilst remaining shielded in a sea of similarity and anonymity.

Google’s preliminary data shows that advertisers ‘can expect to see at least 95 percent of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising’. Specific results will be dependent on the ‘strength of the clustering algorithm’ as Google calls it, and the specific cohort targeted.

So, how will it work exactly? Chrome uses algorithms to assign an individual user a cohort ID based on the sites visited. For example, users who regularly search for real estate and puppy videos are grouped in one cohort and those who search for real estate and cars are sorted into another.

Your cohort is calculated from your scrolling history over the past seven days, and comprises only a few thousand people at a time, allowing publishers to present advertising content that is specific enough to be relevant to the cohort but not as direct or invasive as individually tracked data.

Chrome has begun trialing the privacy-first technology in the United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and the Philippines. It plans to go globally in the coming months.

If you have blocked third-party cookies or disabled personalisation in your Google Ad settings, you won’t be included in the trial otherwise Google will use your Chrome login as the first step to include you.

While it might seem counter-productive to provide advertisers with less specific evidence-based information, raising community awareness on the lack of privacy online is threatening the industry and blocked cookies are costing businesses revenue.

FLoC is only one of the privacy-first alternatives that Google is launching that will allow individuals the privacy we all desire while advertisers continue to gather data to inform marketing decisions.