Google launches its Privacy Sandbox, EFF considers it ‘a terrible idea’

Where only Google can steal your data

Google begins for the first time with a practical test in Chrome of its new advertising system Privacy Sandbox. That project consists of multiple APIs that allow users to see personalized ads without tracking cookies. The first API is now being tested in the browser.

Google writes in a blog post that it starts with a small-scale test. It’s a trial with Federated Learning or Cohorts, or FLoC. This is one of the few parts of Privacy Sandbox that Google had made practical use of so far. With FLoC, advertisers can approach users without using tracking cookies. Users are divided into cohorts, based on their interests based on websites they visit. This is calculated locally in the browser, which, according to Google, is a privacy-friendly alternative way to reach users without tracking them across websites.

The FLoC test takes place under “a small number of users” in different countries, including the US. Users from the Netherlands, Belgium or other European countries are not covered by the test. This probably has to do with the privacy legislation, because it is not yet clear how exactly FLoC should work in combination with consent as defined under the GDPR and the e-privacy rules.

In the future, the test will be rolled out worldwide, says Google, but the company does not provide a timeline for that. Users who Block third party Cookies in Chrome will not be included in the test. In april, Chrome gets new settings that allow users to unsubscribe from FLoC.

All items that are still used for third-party cookies must be replaced in the long term. Privacy Sandbox consists of several other APIs besides FLoC, all of which have different goals. For example, there are APIs to measure conversion, but also for practical things like DoS protection. Tweakers wrote a Plus article about the initiative earlier this month. Google itself says that FLoC is 95 percent effective in reaching customers for advertisers, but the public tests have to show if that’s really true.

FLoC and Privacy Sandbox are not undisputed. Market authorities and civil rights movements are afraid that Google will gain too much power. That is why an investigation has already been started in England. The influential EFF called Privacy Sandbox rather ‘a terrible idea’.

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