Google Delays FLoC Testing In Europe

With Google set to wipe out third-party cookie tracking in Chrome next year, processes in Europe remain in flux based on how Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), Google's answer to serving advertisements, will adhere to General Data Protection Regulations.

Marshall Vale, a Chrome product manager, tweeted that Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) tests will be done in the U.S., and that the company is “working to begin testing in Europe as soon as possible. We are 100% committed to the Privacy Sandbox in Europe.”

Google launched Privacy Sandbox in response to the cookieless future and its purpose is to provide anonymity to user data.

Valle’s tweet supported a comment made by Michael Kleber, a Google engineer, earlier that day at the World Wide Web Consortium. Kleber acknowledged Google will not test FLoC in Europe because it might not be compatible with European privacy law.

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“For countries in Europe, we will not be turning on origin trials for users in [European Economic Area] countries,” Kleber said, during the Improving Web Advertising Business Group (IWABG) meeting.

The group aims to identify areas where standards and changes in the Web can improve the ecosystem and experience for users, advertisers, publishers, distributors, ad networks, agencies and others.

What would prevent Google from using FLoC in Europe due to GDPR?

"The way FLoC is currently proposed to work does not let users opt-out of being included in a cohort, so the question is around whether the information being used to categorize people into cohorts is considered personal data, therefore becoming non-GDPR compliant and preventing FLoC from being used," said Japhia Mangan, vice president of client Services, Adlucent.

Google promotes FLoC as a way to limit the capability of third parties to track consumer activity across the web using cookies.

“Everyone is really trying to figure out what third-party cookie elimination means,” said Matthew Mierzejewski, senior vice president of search and performance marketing lab. “It really depends on how dependent brands are in leveraging third-party data.”

Mierzejewski said it will become more important for brands to develop their own third-party ID graph, which is something Merkle helps brands do.

Dependency is something the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wants to know. The CMA is investigating Google’s plan to end support for third-party cookies in the Chrome browser and its Chromium engine. In January, the antitrust regulator launched an investigation under Chapter II of the U.K.'s Competition Act 1998 into “suspected breaches of competition law by Google.”

The investigation centers on Google’s proposals to remove third-party cookies on Chrome and replace tracking functions with Privacy Sandbox tools.

One major concern for advertisers points to how browser collects user data, creates cohorts, and how they are used to target ads. It makes Google the privacy mediator, which could be in opposition of Europe’s data collection legislation.

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