How to know if you are being ‘flocked’ by Google (and how to avoid it)

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Do not be alarmed, because it may sound worse than it is. But since Google does not seem to intend to properly report this, we have the rest of it to do. We speak the new secure tracking system with which the Internet giant wants to get rid little by little of the cookiesThose small files that your browser downloads on each site you visit and that serve a lot, good and bad.

The cookies They serve, for example, so that your session remains open in the services you use on the Internet and you do not have to enter your username and password each time you restart the browser; but they also serve for advertising companies to follow you throughout the web and create profiles with which to try to distribute personalized advertising. Between many other things. Hence the cookies third-party have been in the crosshairs of browsers for quite some time.

The cookies, especially the cookies From third parties, they are currently a necessary evil, because on the one hand they make your life easier, and on the other they expose you to the bad practices of a large part of the advertising industry. We didn’t even get into topics of spyware Y malware. Google knows this and has been looking for a satisfactory solution to the problem for a long time. However, Google is an interested party, the most interested, in fact, since the bulk of their business is based on serving you advertising and the better they know you, the more effective the advertising will be.

That’s why Google offers you these high-quality applications and services (Chrome, Gmail, Drive, etc.) at zero cost: they already make money with your data. However, the company is aware of the abuse and risks associated with the use of cookies from third parties and –despite their continuous lapses– they want to improve the situation for the user… without damaging their business. And Google is the absolute king of online advertising.

Thus, Google – and other companies, but mainly Google – have implemented and continue to do so different measures with which to curb the insecurity and exposure posed by cookies in general and cookies. cookies of third parties in particular, for example, with proposals such as the tightening of cookies, which Firefox has recently taken a step further with its Total Cookie Protection. But there was still more that could be done … and this is what Google is doing.

In recent days the company has begun testing a new tracking mechanism called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), whereby you can dispense with the use of cookies from third parties to collect data related to the activity that the user performs online (history and browsing, interests, demographics, etc.) and thus serve dedicated advertising in a more secure way. With a but: I cook it, I eat it, and it is that FLoC is an exclusive technique of Google.

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Are you being ‘flocked’? Find out below

Apart from this last detail, with which it will be in charge of dealing with Google’s competition in advertising, the test to which we refer is being carried out in 0.5% of Chrome browsers, which seems to be the case little, but involving many millions of users. And what is worse, it is being done without informing users that they are being guinea pigs and that their browsing data is being extracted in a new, a priori safe way, but very intensive.

Not only that: after this first test, the company intends to extend FLoC to 5% of Chrome users, around a hundred million people; and when they are satisfied with the results, to the rest of the browser users. How to avoid being ‘flocked’ in this first round, in the next and beyond? You have two ways of doing it, but neither will you like if you are one of those who does not like, worth the redundancy, of complicating your life with these things.

First of all, note that the first FLoC test applies only to users in the United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Mexico, from where many of you read us. Although sooner or later, all Chrome users are going to have to go through hoops.

Returning to this first and second FLoC tests, the only way to avoid being included in it is to block the cookies from third parties from the browser preferences, with all the inconveniences that this entails. In turn, the DuckDuckGo plugin for Chrome has added blocking of this feature in its latest update, so it may be a good alternative in passing.

If you are not interested in neither one thing nor the other, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has enabled a page to check if you are being ‘flocked’ in which it also explains well what this whole story consists of. With the push of a button they will confirm if your browser is running FLoC or not. For more information about FLoC, this another EFF article that goes much deeper into the subject.

In the medium term, however, the only alternative to FLoC will be to abandon Chrome in favor of another browser that is not going to adopt this feature and, good news, they are all except Chrome. Of course, if you are already a user of Chrome and Google services, the jump will not be a big change. Otherwise, you have a new home to choose from: Brave, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, Vivaldi … That is not for options.