In the months since Google announced it would be disabling third-party cookies in its wildly popular Chrome browser, the advertising world has been waiting anxiously to see what technology will take its place as the go-to digital identity solution.
One of the leading contenders? Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) enough: Google, which in 2019 announced the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative. The promise of FLoC is that it will gather data on users, then group those users into groups (or cohorts) with like-minded individuals for marketers to subsequently target with relevant ads.
Advocates have said FLoC will provide advertisers with an identity solution that is nearly as accurate as third-party cookies while maintaining individual users’ privacy. Critics, however, have called the implementation a power grab by the world’s leading search and digital advertising company, meant to strengthen its grip on the industry while offering little in the way of actual privacy enhancements.
FLoC Takes Flight…Sort Of…
Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, Google’s FLoC is now alive and kicking on many of its Chrome browsers as they test the new tech—but that may be just about the only place you can find it because pretty much every other major browser has already decided to block or not adopt Google’s FLoC tracking technology. This includes Mozilla (Firefox), Microsoft Edge, Apple’s Safari, DuckDuckGo, Vivaldi, and Brave.
Some publishers, including The Guardian, and online services such as GitHub are also resisting the new tracking tech from the global search and advertising giant, and WordPress is considering making “disable” its default FLoC setting. Even government officials are beginning to grow skeptical of Google’s new technology, with several regulators across the EU voicing concerns about FLoC.
The Future of Identity Tracking After Third-Party Cookies
Where does this leave marketers and advertisers in search of the One True Replacement for third-party cookies? Well, for better or worse, it leaves them right about where they were before FLoC debuted: in search of answers. The immediate future of identity and tracking appears to be an amalgamation of first-party data and a loose network of unaffiliated tracking tools, including the International Advertising Bureau’s Project Rearc, LiveRamp’s IdentityLink, Unified ID 2.0 (aka UID 2.0) and (yes) FLoC, among others.
As advertisers, publishers, developers, and consumers continue to sort things out, it’s important that industry players stay committed to working together: listening to the market, collaborating with regulatory bodies, adapting and developing new products, and keeping customers/users abreast of any changes as they develop. While a single identity solution may be appealing to advertisers, the near future demands a multi-faceted, multi-tool approach rather than betting too heavily on just one solution, as marketers will need to rely on a variety of options while the industry works through its options.
In other words: sit tight, folks. We may be here a while.