No, Google! Vivaldi will not support FLoC

It’s hard to break old habits.

Google’s new data collection tool is disgusting. FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) is a new ad technology designed to replace third-party cookies and similar tools like localStorage. This is an openly dangerous move that violates user privacy.

The technology is currently being tested in Google Chrome and is also part of the Chromium browser engine.

Hence the reasonable question: What is Vivaldi’s position on this new Google technology?

Considering that our browser is based on Chromium, the question is very relevant. But the fact is, even if we use Chromium to render web pages, that’s where our similarities to Chrome (and other Chromium-based browsers) end.

Remove FLoC! Vivaldi does not support FLoC.

At Vivaldi, we always protect the privacy of our users. We do not allow tracking of user activity or the creation of their behavioral profiles, in any form. We do not even allow our own products to create local behavioral user profiles.

For us, the word “privacy” really means privacy. We are not manipulating the term to confuse its meaning. We do not peep how you use our products. Our privacy policy simple and straightforward, we are not going to follow you.

FLoC, privacy-infringing surveillance technology.

Google will continue to create behavioral profiles and monitor users, even in the absence of third-party cookies and localStorage.

They presented FLoC as part of so-called “private” technologies, but let’s be honest: FLoC is a privacy-infringing technology for tracking users.

Does FLoC work in Vivaldi?

The current experimental implementation of FLoC does not work in Vivaldi. It requires some hidden settings that are disabled in Vivaldi.

The FLoC component in Chrome needs to contact Google servers to understand if this technology can be used, since it is only allowed in countries not covered by the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Discussions about whether this technology can be used in Europe without violating the GDPR are still pending. We are closely following this process.

Although Vivaldi uses the Chromium engine, we we make changes to it in various ways to preserve useful components but make them safer for user data. We do not allow Vivaldi to send such tracking requests to Google servers.

We will not support the FLoC API and plan to completely disable it regardless of how it is implemented. This technology does not protect privacy and, of course, does not provide any benefit, leading to the loss of privacy for the benefit of Google’s financial interests.

Why FLoC? Because third party cookies are dying.

Traditionally, many websites have legitimately used third-party cookies to log into your account. Blocking third-party cookies in your browser will disable automatic login. But as the user was being followed more and more actively through third-party cookies, some browsers began to actively block third-party cookies.

Websites are constantly trying alternative authorization solutions that do not use third-party cookies, and very soon such cookies may be disabled by default in all browsers.

This makes it difficult for ‘tracking’ companies like Google who want to dominate the market and therefore look for alternatives. FLoC is one such solution.

Like many privacy-focused products, Vivaldi has a built-in tracking blocker that blocks known third-party trackers, whether they use cookies, localStorage, or fingerprinting for identification.

What are third party cookies.

Third Party Cookies are one of the fundamental technologies that advertisers rely on to create behavioral user profiles. Instead of contextual advertising, depending on which page a person is viewing, behavioral profiles allow you to broadcast targeted ads based on the user’s personal characteristics.

Behavioral profiles not only allow you to make money from ads, but can also be used to influence user online behavior and manipulate large groups of people. Such profiles can be linked to a social media account, name, real person, his friends and relatives, as well as to everything that they have ever written about themselves.

The vast majority of online ads and trackers are owned by just a few large corporations such as Google and Facebook. They collect a huge amount of data using their trackers and get access to any private information about your identity.

Similar view surveillance – one of the biggest threats to privacy today – threatens our identity. It jeopardizes our privacy. It compromises our privacy. But it is still used because we are used to it, and individual protesting voices do not have much power.

At Vivaldi, we believe that it should be illegal for companies to create behavioral profiles of their users. And the question is not even about the level of access to such data – companies should not even have the right to create it. No requests for user consent. No pressing of the “OK” button. Not in any form.

How do third-party cookies make tracking easier?

Advertising and tracking components (scripts or “tracking pixels”) are placed on the pages where the advertisement is displayed. When you first visit the browser of this page, the tracker installs a third-party cookie with a unique identifier.

Every time a user sends a request to open a page that is being tracked, the cookie sends a signal to the tracking company, which associates this signal with previous requests. After a while, when a user visits several pages that are tracked by the same company, that company can create a picture of the user’s behavior. What pages he has viewed, what political views he has, what medical problems he has, where he lives, how much time he spends on the Internet, and much more.

More sophisticated trackers can keep track of what you write on the pages you visit, or even how you move your mouse over the page.

How does FLoC work? It examines your browsing history.

FLoC does all the profiling work directly in the browser. The browser sees all the web pages that you visit, so it can collect data about your browsing habits, as well as determine your preferences.

This is not the same as storing your browsing history in the browser for your convenience. This is an analysis of your online behavior for Google. The most important aspects of your online behavior are selected and if there is a group of people with similar criteria, you are assigned the same identifier as they all have.

Thus, the advertising company no longer needs your unique personal identifier to see exactly which pages you are viewing – unless, of course, you are using a browser created by the same company – and it cannot identify you specifically. Sounds good at first glance.

But they can see that every person who has bought certain drugs is in group (FLoC) 1324, 98744, or 19287.

And now the situation is getting worse.

If you are in one of these FLoC groups, you will be shown an advertisement for this drug – even if you want to keep your health problems secret from others.

All this is completely anonymous and, it would seem, should only be welcomed, but in fact it is a hoax.

They can still understand that you have a certain health problem. That you are more likely to belong to a certain age group, or that you have certain character traits because you are in the same group as other people with similar traits.

Statistical analysis of these groups is significantly complicated for small companies. They don’t have much data to work with. They do not see all websites that list this FLoC group.

The person with the largest ad space on the web, Google, will get the most information about these groups.

Again, Google only strengthens its dominant position.

FLoC will collect your data. More than ever.

Previously, an advertising company could only collect information about you related to the websites you visited on which its advertising was placed. An ad provider that ran from 1,000 websites, for example, could only track each visitor on one or two of their sites, so they couldn’t collect a lot of data about you.

FLoC is a game changer. Its basic functionality includes the exchange of received data with advertisers.

Now every website will see the group you are included in based on your behavior on any other website. Even websites that only have contextual ads or no ads at all will be used in the general scheme. This may change in the future as the technology is currently experimental.

For example, you may visit a very personal website, whether or not the website uses FloC advertisements, and now every other website you visit will be informed by your FLoC group indicating that you visited this type of website. A completely different advertising company, but it gets the same information about the websites you visit.

FLoC has serious implications for society as a whole.

FLoC does have very serious consequences for people living in environments where there is persecution for various aspects of their personality – be it sexuality, political opinion or religion. Anything can become part of your FloC ID.

For example, a dictatorial state may determine that dissenters are often in one of five FLoC groups. Now, anyone in this group who visits a government-controlled website could be at risk. A country that bans certain religions or sexual relations can do the same.

This is no longer a question of privacy – there is a border crossing towards personal security threats.

Users are always more important. Not FLoC.

It is very disturbing that we have reached a stage where a simple number – a FLoC group identifier – can be so dangerous. Could we ever imagine this?

Advertising came into our online life even before user activity tracking was invented. But it was simple contextual advertising. You were browsing an auto parts website and you were shown ads for cars. You were interested in this topic – you received relevant promotional offers. You didn’t have to worry about seeing ads for a product you viewed a week ago on a completely different website. Advertising companies made money. Websites made money from advertising campaigns.

Most likely, if you prohibit user tracking, then this type of advertising will again become dominant on the network, and it is still quite effective.

But instead of creating a world free of targeted advertising problems, we are facing a new reality with customized behavioral profiles using FLoC and ‘Sandboxes of privacy‘.

We are giving up FLoC. You must do this too.

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