Google has announced that it is beginning trials of Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), an important part of its Privacy Sandbox project.

In simple terms, FLoC works by analysing consumers browsing behaviour and uses this data to group consumers into cohorts of like-minded users. These groups are planned to be specific enough for advertisers to use them to show relevant ads, all whilst remaining in keeping with privacy concerns – no browsing history is shared with Google, and consumers can’t be personally identified by marketers.

Initially surfacing in the US, Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and the Philippines, the trial will soon be scaled globally. Due to concerns about GDPR and other privacy regulations, FLoC trials will not take place in Europe.

All Privacy Sandbox trials allow users to opt out of being a part of them, which some may choose to do as there are views that the cohort data is still personal, so should not be available.

What about the implications?

Google’s preliminary tests of FLoC to reach in-market and affinity Google audiences showed that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising. This means advertisers may be able to edit their efforts and campaigns to suit this, should it prove a popular and efficient method for both publishers and consumers.

Advertisers may be able to harness the data that will be available to them for certain campaigns, however it seems unlikely that FLoC could serve as a complete replacement for third-party cookies, as there is simply not enough information.

It is worth noting that FLoC is still in its trial phase, meaning that if advertisers do not record results showing success, steps can be taken to ensure it is a more promising alternative.

Marshall Vale, Google’s product manager for Privacy Sandbox, said: “[We’re] excited because we absolutely need a more private web, and we know third-party cookies aren’t the long-term answer. [We’re] worried because today many publishers rely on cookie-based advertising to support their content efforts, and we had seen that cookie blocking was already spawning privacy-invasive workarounds (such as fingerprinting) that were even worse for user privacy.

“Overall, we felt that blocking third-party cookies outright without viable alternatives for the ecosystem was irresponsible, and even harmful, to the free and open web we all enjoy.”

FLoC is still on trial, and it will be interesting to see how advertisers and consumers respond. Sharing varying opinions is crucial to PerformanceIN if we’re going to keep a balanced and well-rounded view of the performance marketing industry. That means we love to hear your opinions, so please get in touch via our Typeform to share your thoughts.