DuckDuckGo has announced that it wants to block Google’s FLoC, or Federated Learning of Cohorts, which categorizes you based on your browsing history’s preferences and demographics, allowing creepy ads and other content targeting without the use of third-party cookies, and it’s now available by default for millions of users.
After a brief testing period, Google opted not to make the new monitoring system a consumer option, instead opting to include millions of people in the scheme automatically. Yeah, you, too, if you’re reading this in Chrome when logging in to a Google account, and if not now, then eventually.
Though Google insists that FLoC is a “privacy-preserving mechanism” that “enables ad selection without revealing individual users’ browsing behavior,” the algorithm remains divisive among many.
The cookie-free method employs fingerprinting, which has been criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other privacy advocates. DuckDuckGo’s Chrome extension is available to anyone who wants to block Google’s latest tracking tool.
In a blog post, DuckDuckGo stated that it agrees with these concerns, and that the new version of its Chrome extension would prevent websites from monitoring users based on their FLoC recognition. Of course, Google must approve the extension update before it can be made available to users, according to the company.
The opacity of what FLoC does, how it works, and the difficulty of opting out of it are especially worrying. Google has already made the latest methodology available to millions of people without telling or giving them a preference.
FLoC is bad for privacy, according to DuckDuckGo, because “it groups you based on your browsing history, and any website can use the group FLoC ID to target and fingerprint you.”
The conditions for being opted into FLoC are a little murky and contradictory, but there are three ways to opt out of FLoC:
- Don’t use Google Chrome! FLoC is currently only available in Google Chrome, and no other browser vendor has expressed an interest in doing so. There are a number of free browsers to choose from, but we recommend using our own mobile browser, which comes with best-in-class privacy protection by default when searching and browsing.
- Add the DuckDuckGo Chrome extension to your browser. DuckDuckGo has improved its tracker blocking in Chrome extension to also block FLoC interactions on websites in response to Google automatically turning on FLoC. This is in line with the single goal of DuckDuckGo’s extension, which is to protect your privacy when you use your browser holistically. It’s privacy in a nutshell. (If you’re using a browser other than Chrome, you can get the extension here.)
- If you want to use Chrome, you can change your Chrome and/or Google settings, which we suggest you do in either case. It seems (but Google isn’t really specific about this, so we can’t be sure) that if you do any of the above, you’ll be kicked out of FLoC, at least temporarily. And, since there are so many unknowns and circumstances change quickly, the efficacy of these measures can change in the future.
- Keep your Google account logged out.
- Don’t use Chrome to sync your history or build a sync passphrase.
- Disable “Web & App Operation” or “Include Chrome background and activity from blogs, applications, and devices using Google services” in Google Activity Controls.
- Disable “Ad Personalization” or “Also use your behavior and details from Google services to personalize advertising on websites and applications that collaborate with Google to display ads” in Google Ad Settings.
Even if you change these settings, we suggest installing the DuckDuckGo Chrome extension for comprehensive privacy security, including private search, tracker blocking, Smarter Encryption, and Global Privacy Control, while using Chrome. You can get our extension for non-Chrome desktop browsers here.