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Security & privacy

Is Google’s new ad tracker following you around the web?

We all know that websites and services can track your movements and behavior across websites. Recently Apple also started implementing a similar technique, where it asked for your permission to connect to other devices in your house. Tap or click here to Google like a pro: 7 tricks for expert searches.

This allows Apple to track how you browse, shop, and use other services while connected to Apple products. For the most part, any company would need to get your permission to track you online. But while you can send “do not track” requests to sites, there seems to be a new tracking system on the loose.

Google’s new ad-tracking tech has been turning heads, as millions of Chrome browsers have been roped into a trial for the controversial software. We’ve got details of everything you need to know.

Here’s the backstory

Last month Google announced that it would be banning third-party cookies from tracking you across the internet. In its place, the tech giant employed its own tracker, called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).

That doesn’t sound bad, but the problem is that millions of Chrome users might be part of the “origin trial” without even knowing about it. Around 0.5% of Chrome users have been selected and span as far and wide as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and the U.S.

FLoC runs in your browser, and by using Chrome normally, you would never know that it is tracking your clicks and searches. Looking at your search history from the past week, it assigns you to a group with similar people worldwide. It then captures other data and compares it to the people in the group.

In simpler terms: it tracks your searches and habits and groups you with other like-minded people. This makes it easier for Google to launch targeted ads to specific people. It creates a browsing fingerprint and shares your ID with everyone you interact with.

What can you do about it?

A website has been set up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where you can check whether you are in the trial. Am I FLoCed? attempts to detect your FLoC ID and tells you how to stop or minimize the impact.

You can’t opt-out of the FLoC trial, but you can disable third-party cookies — which seems to be the only way around the tracking for now. That does come with a caveat, though. It will probably reset your preferences on some websites and interfere with simple login processes.

Another solution is to use a different browser. Other Chromium-based browsers like Mozilla Firefox, Opera or Microsoft Edge currently don’t have FLoC enabled.

“We emphatically reject the future of FLoC. That is not the world we want, nor the one users deserve. Google needs to learn the correct lessons from the era of third-party tracking and design its browser to work for users, not for advertisers,” the EFF wrote in a blog post.

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