How to opt out of Google’s privacy sandbox (FLoC) in Chrome
Online advertising currently relies on third-party ‘cookies,’ which are small identifiers that follow you across different websites. Cookies allow companies to track your browsing activity and create an advertising profile, which is why many privacy-centric web browsers (like Firefox and Vivaldi) largely block them. Google Chrome still allows cookies to work with few restrictions, but now Google is working on a new technology to replace them: Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).
However, the new technology still relies on (less accurate) behavior tracking, and some other browsers have already decided they won’t implement FLoC. It’s also possible to turn off FLoC in Chrome, where Google calls it Privacy Sandbox. So, what exactly is FloC, and how do you turn it off?
What is FLoC?
Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is a new feature being tested in Google Chrome, which allows targeted advertisements without the use of cross-site tracking cookies. FLoC looks at your browsing history and places you into an ad targeting group based on your behavior. The technology is intended to be more private than cross-site tracking cookies, because there are no longer individual profiles (only targeting groups), but it has still been criticized for being enabled by default and allowing other types of tracking.
Publishers and advertisers are hesitant to say goodbye to cross-site tracking cookies, and nearly every other web browser that was already blocking trackers is promising to disable FLoC. Vivaldi Browser wrote a blog post criticizing the functionality:
At Vivaldi, we stand up for the privacy rights of our users. We do not approve tracking and profiling, in any disguise. We certainly would not allow our products to build up local tracking profiles.
Mozilla, the developers of Firefox, said in a statement that it has no plans to implement FLoC in the Firefox web browser right now:
We are currently evaluating many of the privacy preserving advertising proposals, including those put forward by Google, but have no current plans to implement any of them at this time. […] Advertising and privacy can co-exist. And the advertising industry can operate differently than it has in past years. We look forward to playing a role in finding solutions that build a better web.
Microsoft and Apple are still deciding if they will bring FLoC to their browsers in the future — it’s not available in Safari right now, and Microsoft has turned it off in Edge.
How to opt-out of Privacy Sandbox
The best way to stay private on the web is to use a browser that isn’t owned by an advertising company, but if you have to stick with Chrome for one reason or another, Google does provide a setting to turn off FLoC in Chrome (at least for the moment). In Chrome on Android, open the main menu, then go to Settings > Privacy and security > Privacy Sandbox.
In the desktop Chrome browser, the setting can be found by pasting chrome://settings/privacySandbox into the address bar and pressing Enter. The setting should synchronize with your Google account, so if you turn it off on one device, FLoC will also be turned off on your other devices.
If you don’t see any setting at all, FLoC isn’t enabled in your browser or account yet, so you don’t have anything to worry about.