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Google is going it alone with its proposed advertising technology to replace third-party cookies. Every major browser that uses the open-source Chromium project has declined to use it, and it’s unclear what that will mean for the future of advertising on the web. A couple of weeks ago, Google announced it was beginning to test a new ad technology inside Google Chrome called the Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC. It uses an algorithm to look at your browser history and place you in a group of people with similar browsing histories so that advertisers can target you. It’s more private than cookies, but it’s also complicated and has some potential privacy implications of its own if it’s not implemented right. Google Chrome is built on an open-source project, and so FLoC was implemented as part of that project that other browsers could include. I am not aware of any Chromium-based browser outside of Google’s own that will implement it and very aware of many that will refuse. One note I’ll drop here is that I am relieved that nobody else is implementing FLoC right away, because the way FLoC is constructed puts a very big responsibility on a browser maker. If implemented badly, FLoC could leak out sensitive information. It’s a complicated technology that does appear to keep you semi-anonymous, but there are enough details to hide dozens of devils. Anyway, here’s Brave: “The worst aspect of FLoC is that it materially harms user privacy, under the guise of being privacy-friendly.” And here’s Vivaldi: “We will not support the FLoC API and plan to disable it, no matter how it is implemented. It does not protect the privacy and it certainly is not beneficial to users, to unwittingly give away their privacy for the financial gain of Google.” As you probably know, Opera has a long history of introducing privacy features that benefit our users: it was the first major browser to introduce built-in ad blocking, browser VPN and other privacy-centric features. The significance now is the end of third-party cookies, which will reduce the amount of cross-website tracking on the web. While we and other browsers are discussing new and better privacy-preserving advertising alternatives to cookies including FloC, we have no current plans to enable features like this in the Opera browsers in their current form. Generally speaking, we do, however, think it’s too early to say in which direction the market will move or what the major browsers will do. DuckDuckGo isn’t thought of as a browser, but it does make browsers for iOS and Android. On desktop, it’s already made a browser extension for other browsers to block it. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is very much against FLoC, has even made a website to let you know if you’re one of the few Chrome users who have been included in Google’s early tests. But maybe the most important Chromium-based browser not made by Google is Microsoft Edge. It is a big test for Google’s proposed FLoC technology: if Microsoft isn’t going to support it, that would pretty much mean Chrome really will be going it alone with this technology. As for Apple’s Safari, I will admit I didn’t reach out for comment because at this point it’s not difficult to guess what the answer will be. Apple, after all, deserves some credit for changing everybody’s default views on privacy. However, the story here is actually much more interesting than you might guess at first. John Wilander is a WebKit engineer at Apple who works on Safari’s privacy-enhancing Intelligent Tracking Prevention features. Wilander’s reply jibes with Microsoft’s statement that “the industry is on a journey” when it comes to balancing new advertising technologies and privacy. But it speaks to something really important: web standards people take their jobs seriously and are seriously committed to the web standards process that creates the open web. Read this posting in its entirety on OUR FORUM.