Google has shared more details on how it plans to replace third party cookies, proposing to group internet users of common interests together, keep explicit browsing history offline, and use a “trusted server” to store ads.

The plan is somewhere between Google’s previous pervasive user tracking across the internet and the increasing trend to block it altogether, such as with Apple and Firefox.

For advertisers and publishers, Google claims its alternative would lead to an at most five per cent drop in conversions per dollar spent compared to third party cookies.

For users, Google hopes the privacy improvements will be enough to convince them not to opt-out altogether from tracking, thereby preserving the current model of advertiser-supported online content and the tech giant’s own business model.

Adding to the pressure for a more privacy-enhancing method, Google is currently the subject of investigations from multiple regulators, concerned about Google’s market dominance and the notoriously opaque online ad ecosystem. The search and advertising giant also received a 100 million euro fine from French data regulators late last year for its use of advertising cookies.

A new way to target ads online

Known as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) and first revealed last year as part of a Privacy Sandbox, Google on Monday claimed its testing for its new way of targeting ads showed it to be “nearly as effective as cookie-based approaches”

In a company blog post, Chetna Bindra Google’s group product manager, user trust and privacy said the early results showed FLoC to be an “effective replacement signal” for third party cookies.

“Our tests of FLoC to reach in-market and affinity Google Audiences show that advertisers can expect to see at least 95 per cent of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.

“The specific result depends on the strength of the clustering algorithm that FLoC uses and the type of audience being reached.”

Google expects to make FloC available for public testing through a Chrome update in March.

Audiences and conversion measurement

The Privacy Sandbox and subsequent feedback from major adtechs have also led to a new proposal for marketers to deploy their own audiences without third party cookies.

Codenamed “FLEDGE”, the proposal involves the use of a “trusted server” to store information about a campaign’s bids and budgets. Participants would need to comply with “certain principles and policies” to gain access.

FLEDGE is essentially Google’s option for advertisers who want to reach prior visitors to their website via remarketing.

Conversion measurement, however, appears difficult for Google without third party cookies. The current proposal would be to add more privacy preserving techniques like aggregating information, adding noise, and limiting the amount of data that gets sent from the device.

In the case of click-through reporting, for example, noise is added to the returned data and the amount of conversion data the API can send is limited at any one time.

Google says the tradeoff for user privacy means advertisers will have to prioritise which conversions are most important for their reporting needs. But the company is still calling for wide feedback and a measurement prototype is yet to be built.

Ad fraud prevention APIs and methods to prevent “fingerprinting” or covert tracking will also be trialled this year by Google.

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