What are FLoC and the Privacy Sandbox?

Advertisers and publishers alike have been awaiting the “death of cookies” for several years now amidst growing public concern around data privacy. In recent months, the media industry has begun to gain more information on what a cookie-less future may look like—at least within the Google Chrome web browser environment.  

In this blog post, we’ll explore two Google-led initiatives, the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) and the Privacy Sandbox. We’ll also break down why publishers should keep an eye on these projects. 

Whatever way you bake it, the third-party cookie poses serious challenges for the media industry. Nowadays, three quarters of mobile devices reject third-party tracking cookies, so both advertisers and publishers have been seeking other avenues where they can gather audience data to create personalized campaigns that help drive revenue for their businesses. 

Big Tech has a massive stake in the digital advertising market, so it makes sense that companies like Google are working diligently to find solutions to the third-party cookie predicament. One such initiative is FLoC, which Google has begun trialing. The company  describes FLoC as a technology that aims to enable demographic and interest-based targeting of large cohorts, while allowing individuals to remain anonymous within those cohorts. 

“Each person’s individual browsing history is kept private, but the browser itself will look at the history and then assign a user to one of those cohorts,” explains this article by The Verge. “When you visit a website, Chrome will tell that site that the visitor is part of cohort 198273 (or whatever).” 

While FLoC may sound like an attractive solution to the dilemma around third-party cookies, it’s too early to deem the initiative a silver bullet for publishers’ advertising woes. FLoC has recently drawn criticism from numerous brands, including rival web browsers Mozilla and Vivaldi, digital civil liberties non-profit the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and others. 

“GitHub has already blocked FLoC and a WordPress technical meeting debated treating it as a security issue. WordPress ‘powers’ more than 40% of the web, which is why this debate has serious implications for Chrome’s successful (or otherwise) FLoC deployment,” according to this article by Forbes.

Privacy Sandbox: APIs to facilitate ad delivery

As a publisher, it’s evident that FLoC might not be a cookie jar you want to reach into just yet. However, FLoC is only one proposal that falls underneath a broader Google initiative—the Privacy Sandbox. This project outlines a set of privacy standards that aims to enable advertisers to continue using behavioral targeting while offering anonymity to Google Chrome users. The Privacy Sandbox will rely largely on browser application programming interfaces (APIs) to function. 

In addition to FLoC, other Privacy Sandbox proposals include: 

  • Privacy Budget, which limits how much user data advertisers can collect 
  • First-Party sets, which enable publishers to categorize domain names as a single first party 
  • Willful IP Blindness, which allows websites to put on digital blinders that prevent them from using too much Privacy Budget 

These are just a few of Google’s many proposals that sit within the Privacy Sandbox. 

“First-Party Sets will be used to enable targeting across multiple sites owned by the same publisher,” explains this article by Automatad. “Cross-site targeting across the web won’t work. Privacy Budget will ensure that a limited amount of user data is being disclosed so that granular targeting cannot be done.” 

These potential alternatives to third-party cookies offer the media industry a great deal of information to chew on. Watching these initiatives unfold over time is a smart move, however publishers can also take a few proactive steps to protect their businesses from the death of cookies, which we’ll discuss next. 

What publishers need to consider

Media executives have long lamented the duopoly that Google and Facebook have in the digital advertising industry. As the sun is setting on third-party cookies, publishers remain vulnerable to the tech giants’ power, because research shows over 30% of media organizations don’t yet have a plan to replace third-party cookies

The good news is that publishers do have several ad targeting options available to them that don’t require third-party cookies

  • Contextual advertising is one such alternative that uses keyword targeting to deliver relevant ads to audiences, yielding solid click-through rates.  
  • Audience-based targeting is another tool at publishers’ disposal, which involves using first-party data gathered from email and social media marketing tactics to deliver highly personalized and effective campaigns. 

Keep your ear to the ground

It’s safe to say the media industry hasn’t heard the last of FLoC or the Privacy Sandbox. Stay up to date on developments surrounding the death of third-party cookies and other pressing industry topics by subscribing to our blog.

Afton Brazzoni

Afton Brazzoni

Afton helps B2B companies serve their audiences with captivating, refreshing, effective clarity through storytelling. She brings 12 years of experience in marketing and communications, with a background in journalism, to her mission to deliver clients excellent content that drives their businesses forward. Afton has extensive experience developing strategies and content for growth-oriented organizations such as technology companies, higher education institutions and the tourism industry, as well as for entrepreneurs.

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