Google would put an end to the cookie system, but of course the ads will still be found

Google would put an end to the use of cookies that identify users, not, of course, as a white knight of privacy, as FLoC could come. But what is it?

Google would settle for cookies: the company plans that from 2022, Chrome would not allow the use of such pieces of code from third parties, thereby claiming that it would primarily protect users ’privacy and personal information. But what exactly is it and how altruistic is Google actually?

Cakes on the net

Most internet users have heard of small files called mirror translations of the English word cookie – if not at other times, then when you visit a new website in the mandatory pop-up window, you have to accept that you allow such cookies to be stored on your computer.

Cookies are almost the same age as the World Wide Web: they first appeared in the mid-1990s, and their purpose was to store the status of a given event, linked to the user, on his computer during online transactions.

For example, in an online store, the selected product could remain in the shopping cart even if the browser was closed and then the store’s website was called up again later. Cookies in this form were already supported by Netscape (in fact, they first appeared on their website and the patent was linked to them), and later the IETF, an organization that develops and manages Internet standards, set up a special working group for them.

As in the kitchen, there are several types of cookies on the net. Of the different divisions, we are now interested in primary and third-party groups. There is really no problem with the primary cookie: in addition to offering the shopping cart convenience feature already mentioned, they can be identified in other ways for the website you are visiting, such as not having to log in to your account each time you enter a service and password. or that the weather forecast system is Celsius and do not show you the expected temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

The situation is quite different with third-party cookies, which are placed on your device not by the website but by a service it uses. These have already been described by the IETF Working Group as a serious threat to personal data, as they allow, for example, some web companies to track your habits through several websites. One such company, of course, is Google: when you visit a site that uses Google’s advertising services, in addition to the website’s own cookie, Google’s advertising service also places a small file on your computer.

With these, the company gets a comprehensive picture of what places you usually visit, what you are interested in there and how much. The personal profile you create in this way is then used when you place direct-targeted ads on various web pages.

Few people look at these personal profiles with good eyes, and Firefox and Safari, for example, already block them by default. If Google sticks to the schedule, Chrome will do the same next year.

World without cookies

Of course, protection against third-party cookies, and indeed cookies in general, is already there in most browsers: this is the incognito mode in which the program simply deletes all such files collected at the end of the session, making it difficult for the user to track. The same can be done without incognito mode, for example, by staying in Chrome, you can selectively disable different cookie types in the “Privacy and security” section of the Settings menu under “Cookies and other site data” and delete them one at a time or separately per page (remember: in this case you will have to log in to the various services – Facebook, Gmail and so on).

However, Google’s plans are not simply a kind of “permanent” incognito mode, but the replacement of cookies with a solution called FLoC. This is the acronym for Federated Learning of Cohorts. Aggregate learning in the present situation refers to a method of machine learning in which the algorithm is developed using distributed, localized data samples stored on several separate devices, while a cohort refers to people grouped by some characteristic.

In connection with the FLoC, which is outlined in 2019 and forms part of the Privacy Sandbox envisioning the possible future of the web, Google promises to eliminate user identification and traceability, which would really be in the interest of all of us. At first reading, it seems as if Google is acting selflessly and against its own interests by reducing its visibility into user habits, but an examination of the process immediately reveals that this is far from the truth: tracking remains, only the browser takes over instead of just web pages. this task.

Google envisions FLoC to work like this: your web activity would be analyzed by the browser and categorized into different groups using the so-called SimHash algorithm. Do you look at the prices of VGA cards a lot? You could immediately get into the group (cohort) of those who like online stores, think about VGA shopping, and say players. As time goes on and you visit more and more pages, you will be more and more accurately “classified”.

An important difference, however, is that this classification does not include personal data (it is planned that a group will consist of at least a thousand individuals), in this sense it really reduces identifiable. Google obviously won’t be its own enemy, so we can be sure that FLoC won’t degrade the targeting of ads, and indeed: the company claims that conversion efficiency is only 5 percent worse this way than cookies.

FLoC problems

However, Bennett Cyphers of EFF, a flagship of digital privacy and personal data protection, said the FLoC posed at least as many threats as it prevented, and in his blog post he calls it a horrible idea the idea. What strikes Google most is that the technology, at least for the time being, can prevent third-party cookie-tracking, but it also opens up new avenues for those who still want to do so. While Google wants to address some of these threats with various additions, it won’t be known until the final version of FLoC is released.

Another problem with the new procedure is that no one but Google (i.e. Chrome) is supported for the time being. If, on the other hand, it becomes a kind of “Google-only” service, the company or Chrome’s market dominance could lead to dominance in another area, as it would only lead to FLoC-based, targeted ads. Chrome rivals aren’t a fan of FLoC either: the makers of Brave, Vivaldi and DuckDuckGo say it’s a big step in the wrong direction, so they’re going to block the technology from the start. They say FLoC data coupled with an IP address is more eloquent than today’s evil cookies.

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