A new tracking method is about to be implemented by Google called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short. FLoC is essentially a statistical way of keeping track of the browsing habits of web users so that websites can tailor their ads to the right people.

Google has claimed that FLoC won’t be as intrusive or privacy-invasive as its previous methods, like the now-defunct Google Plus social network and its aborted Google Buzz platform. Even still, there are many people who are skeptical, and rightly so.

The key problem with Google Plus is that it seems to be just another way for Google to collect more data on our online activity and personal interactions. The problem with Google Buzz was that it did not give the users a way to opt-out of the service.

This new Google tracking effort, which is slated for rollout at some point this year, does have an opt-out feature though. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent or stop this system from tracking us. It will be mandatory for every website to participate in FLoC, so we’re all going to have it no matter what.

The good news is that the FLoC implementation doesn’t require any additional hardware and it can work with any device or browser that has JavaScript support. Sites that rely on Flash will not be made to comply, and there’s a de-listing process in place to make sure no website is forced to use FLoC.

There’s also an option available for webmasters who do not want Google to track their users. This will effectively block Google from tracking visitors in the first place, given that FLoC is designed as a passive system with little by way of analytics. Unfortunately, this feature requires the use of an opt-out cookie which renders it useless in most cases.

That said, many have started manually blocking the tag on their websites even though they know what it means and why it is there. This doesn’t sound like the best way to go about things. Do you really want to start manually blocking tracking tags on every website you visit?

The FLoC implementation won’t be mandatory for websites, but all sites will need to use it eventually as Google ramped up its level of compliance over the last year. This is the second wave of this type of thing that Google has been doing, after a voluntary tracker ban that was put in place in early 2012. Apparently, they are not satisfied with how things turned out the first time around.

Can you stop Google from snooping on you?

Google is not a company to be afraid of, nor should it be. It’s just an American company that happens to have an army of employees who like to bend the rules for their own purposes. As such, there are ways in which you can circumvent the system.

Most importantly, you should know that this isn’t as bad as it seems at first sight. The FLoC tag isn’t used for tracking, it’s there to ensure that Google can no longer track you outside of their own servers. If you are interested in figuring out what Google knows about you and how to delete it, click here.

As such, there is nothing to stop websites from at least doing this one thing. If Google was smart enough, they could even disable the tracker completely. There are ways to do this using JavaScript and Flash on websites without any extra effort on the part of the webmaster, but true victory is when every single website does it. Until then, don’t worry about the FLoC tags and instead focus on how you can stop Google from tracking your browsing habits if you haven’t already.

Interested in learning more about the security with Google? Privacy and Security Updates From Google covers more information on Google’s privacy and security.

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