What the FLoC Just Happened?

Google opened testing for FLoC, its group-based ad targeting cookie alternative, on March 30 as the industry works toward 2022.

But is this 2022 timeline realistic? Maybe not, as we learned this week. Testing of FLEDGE, another piece of Google’s post-cookie puzzle, probably won’t begin until next year.

At the same time, FLoC is facing its own resistance from other corners of the ecosystem: Verizon Media unveiled its own cookieless ad targeting tools, and an undisclosed Google program appears to have used publisher data to benefit its own ad buying program.

It’s been a busy week. Let’s dig in.

FLEDGE: Wait for it

Dan Taylor, Google’s managing director of global ads, acknowledged this week that Google’s original timeline to sunset third-party cookies — 2022‚ feels “aggressive,” and he didn’t rule out a delay.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative sits at the heart of its plan to end support for third-party cookies. FLoC is the Privacy Sandbox proposal that is furthest along, but other proposals still need development and testing. For example, another proposal called FLEDGE seeks to serve behaviorally targeted ads through an auction conducted on a device such as an iPhone rather than an external ad server as it’s currently done. Adtech companies may bring their own server to deliver ads within the Chrome browser under FLEDGE.

However, FLEDGE testing isn’t likely to begin until Q4 at the earliest, according to industry sources.

Not a fan

It would be an understatement to say that not everyone is impressed with FLoC. Brave, a privacy-centric browser, disabled FLoC from its Nightly version, and search engine competitor DuckDuckGo released an extension to block FLoC. Mozilla doesn’t plan to implement FLoC in its Firefox browser at all.

FLoC testing currently only covers 5 percent of users globally, including the US, but not in Europe, where it violates the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation. Chrome users can choose not to participate in FLoC — if they even know about it (which isn’t likely) — by opting out of third-party tracking in the browser. Here’s how to tell if you’ve been included in a FLoC cohort for testing.

Other identifiers

Verizon Media introduced Next-Gen Solutions this week, providing advertisers with ad targeting products that don’t use individual identifiers. Like “contextual advertising on steroids,” the tools target ads to people when there is no cookie or mobile ID available based on content and real-time signals such as device type and weather. It uses its own first-party data to predict user behavior and merges that with contextual information. Unlike FLoC, Next-Gen Solutions doesn’t store user data or create user-level identifiers.

The move comes less than a month after Verizon Media debuted a hashed email-based identifier called ConnectID, so now the company can serve targeted ads with or without user IDs. You may remember that Google recently said it wouldn’t build or support replacements for third-party cookies, including email-based identifiers, but clearly, that isn’t stopping Verizon Media or Unified ID 2.0, another alternative, from moving forward.

The Trade Desk, which spearheaded Unified ID 2.0 before passing off control to an industry nonprofit, recently partnered with Epsilon to make Unified ID 2.0 interoperable with CORE ID, which links Epsilon’s first-party database to marketers’ first-party data and user browsing behavior. Publicis, the agency holding company that owns Epsilon, will likely strike similar deals with other platforms.

Yet another Google advantage

Google’s and Apple’s moves to restrict web identifiers are being made in the name of privacy while conveniently strengthening their dominant positions. This playbook has led to several antitrust lawsuits and investigations for Google, including one focused on anticompetitive behavior in adtech. Unredacted documents filed in the lawsuit reveal “Project Bernanke,” a program that used publisher data from Google’s publisher ad server to help buyers win auctions in its ad-buying system. Texas, which is leading the lawsuit, described the behavior as insider trading in digital ad markets.

No teeth

While several state-level privacy laws have emerged to fill the void from a lack of federal privacy legislation, many are being watered-down with help from Big Tech. After examining laws, testimony and lobbying in more than 20 states, The Markup found 14 states with bills that are suspiciously similar to Virginia’s industry-backed privacy law, which was originally authored by Amazon with an assist from Microsoft.

Take your pick

The marketing trade group MMA Global partnered with Prohaska Consulting to compile a list of 80 identity solutions crowding the marketplace, ranging from media companies to tech platforms, payment processors and everything in between. Some are based on third-party cookies, while others are more traditional, such as contextual. It’s not quite as scary as the first LUMAscape, but it’s definitely an eyeful.

That’s it for now. See you next week!