Google this week began testing its controversial cookie-less tracking and targeting system, which relies on placing Chrome users into audience segments based on their web-browsing history, and then transmitting data about those segments directly to publishers.
The company has enrolled “a small percentage” of users in the United
States and other countries in tests of its new, so-called "Federated Learning of Cohorts."
The only way for people to opt out of the tests is by disabling third-party cookies in the Chrome settings -- though Google plans to offer an opt-out control in April.
The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has blasted the new targeting method as a “terrible idea,” calls the new tests a "breach of user trust.”
“Google’s launch of this trial -- without notice to the individuals who will be part of the test, much less their consent -- is a concrete breach of user trust in service of a technology that should not exist.”
Marshall Vale, product manager for Google's privacy sandbox, says Chrome won't create a “cohort,” or audience segment, believed to be “sensitive.”
“Before a cohort becomes eligible, Chrome analyzes it to see if the cohort is visiting pages with sensitive topics, such as medical websites or websites with political or religious content, at a high rate,” Vale writes on the company blog. “If so, Chrome ensures that the cohort isn’t used, without learning which sensitive topics users were interested in.”
Digital rights groups aren't the only ones to object to Google's new targeting system.
Two weeks ago, 14 attorneys general alleged in an amended antitrust complaint that the cohort-based targeting system is anticompetitive and “will further expand the already-dominant market power of Google’s advertising businesses.”
In addition to the United States, Google is testing the new cohort-based targeting system in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Philippines.
The company recently delayed testing the system in Europe, due to concerns that the targeting method might not comply with Europe's broad privacy rules.