Saturday, October 16, 2021

Brave browser disables Google’s FLoC ad-tracking technology

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Brave, a Chromium-based browser, has removed FLoC, Google’s controversial alternative identifier to third-party cookies for tracking users across websites.

Brave Software, which offers open-source web browser Brave, said it would block Google’s new FloC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) ad-tracking technology.

“The worst aspect of FLoC is that it materially harms user privacy, under the guise of being privacy-friendly,” says Brave in a blogpost

The company added it had already disabled FLoC in the Nightly version of both Brave for desktop and Android. It plans to roll out the changes into the stable versions of the browser in the coming days.

It also says that Google is promoting a false notion of privacy by noting that categories such as politics, medical issues, and other sensitive topics will be exempt from FLoC. The problem is that Google determines what categories are sensitive by recording user interaction and habits in the first place.

In case you did not know, FloC is Google’s new ad technology that uses machine learning and other methods to allow the browser to anonymously study users browsing and then put them in groups or “cohorts”. Since users are categorized in these groups, advertising will be based on the cohorts and not on individual user’s data.

Google claims the new method is much more secure than the existing model that leverages cookies and other trackers to follow users on the web. Google recently began testing the technology on its Chrome browser.

“A browser with FLoC enabled would collect information about its user’s browsing habits, then use that information to assign its user to a “cohort” or group,” writes Bennett Cyphers, an EFF technologist. 

Brave browser disables Google's FLoC ad-tracking technology

Brave also notes that FLoC is harmful to sites and publishers because it will group their niche audience in a cohort and then display that information to unrelated sites on the web. This can lead to potential loss of revenue for small businesses.

Opposition grows

FLoC has been widely criticized by privacy advocates, even though it is an improvement to third-party cookies.

When Google announced FLoC, an attempt to replace interest-based advertising that is based on cookies with something else, it was clear from the get-go that Google’s plans would fine heavy opposition. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation published an article criticizing Google’s take on the next generation of interest-based advertising, and DuckDuckGo updated its browser extension to block FLoC outright.

“Don’t use Google Chrome! Right now FLoC is only in Google Chrome, and no other browser vendor has expressed an intention or even interest to implement it. Various browsers are free to download, and we recommend some in our guide to Google alternatives,” DuckDuckGo said.

Priyanshu Vijayvargiya
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of 'Virtualattacks Inc' Priyanshu Vijayvargiya is a cybersecurity analyst, Information Security professional, developer, and a white hat hacker.

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