Website reveals if Google is SPYING on you with new hi-tech ‘ad tracker’

A HANDY web tool lets people know if their internet activity is being snooped on by Google’s controversial new “FLoC” ad-tracking system.

The website “Am I FLoCed” flags if you’re one of the millions of users of Google’s Chrome web browser recently selected to trial the technology.

Alamy

A new web tool lets people know if their internet activity is being snooped on by Google’s controversial new ‘FLoC’ ad-tracking system[/caption]

Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC was announced by Google last month ahead of its ban of third-party cookies in Chrome.

Cookies are used by websites to track your activity as you move from page to page, logging your browsing history, shopping habits and more.

Google says that it will phase out the technology, which is used to target online ads, in 2022 as part of its pledge improve user privacy.

It’s introducing FLoC – effectively a less invasive cookie system – to improve the anonymity of users while still collecting their data for targeted ads.

AFP

FLoC tracks your web activity and uses the data to target you with online ads[/caption]

Critics of the new browser tech, which is being trialled in 0.5 per cent of Chrome users in countries including Australia, Canada and the Unites States, say that it still prioritises company profits over people’s privacy.

One such critic is non-profit digital rights group The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which has built a website that lets people know if they’ve been made a “guinea pig” in Google’s ad-tech experiment.

Visitors to Am I Floced need simply tap the “check for FLoC ID” button to find out if they’re being covertly tracked by the technology.

The tool is designed to raise awareness of web privacy and help create a “better internet for all”, according to the EFF.

“Am I FLoCed is one of an effort to bring to light the invasive practices of the adtech industry – Google included,” the group says on its website.

“If you are a subject, we will tell you how your browser is describing you to every website you visit.”

FLoC is currently being tested in Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the US.

The origin trial is likely to continue into July 2021, and may eventually affect as many as 5 per cent of Chrome’s 2.6billion users worldwide.

What are FLoCs?

Here’s a quick summary courtesy of the The Electronic Frontier Foundation:

FLoC runs in your browser.

It uses your browsing history from the past week to assign you to a group with other “similar” people around the world.

Each group receives a label, called a FLoC ID, which is supposed to capture meaningful information about your habits and interests.

FLoC then displays this label to everyone you interact with on the web.

This makes it easier to identify you with browser fingerprinting, and it gives trackers a head start on profiling you.

According to the EFF, you can opt out of FLoC trials by disabling third-party cookies.

To do that, head to your Chrome settings > Privacy and security > Cookies and other site data > See all cookies and site data > Remove all.

Google’s third-party cookies ban is the latest in a string of limits placed on data collection and usage across its services.

The Chrome changes would affect ad tech companies that use cookies to collect people’s viewing history to direct more relevant ads to them.

“We don’t believe tracking individuals across the web will stand the test of time as privacy concerns continue to accelerate,” Google’s Jerry Dischler said last month.

But smaller rivals dismiss the privacy rationale used by big companies such as Google and Apple to restrict tracking since they would continue to collect valuable data and potentially capture even more ad revenue.

“There is a weaponisation of privacy to justify business decisions that consolidate power to their business and disadvantage the broader marketplace,” said Chad Engelgau, chief executive of Interpublic Group of Companies Inc’s ad data unit Acxiom.

France’s competition authority has temporarily allowed Apple to move forward with new tracking limits, saying privacy protections prevailed over competition concerns.

The UK Competition and Markets Authority is expected to decide soon whether to block the forthcoming Chrome changes.


In other news, Google has admitted to secretly hiding some news sites from users as part of an “experiment”.

Find out what the most Googled terms were in 2020.

And the search giant can now identify a song that’s stuck in your head by analysing your hum or whistle.

What do you make of this handy tool? Let us know in the comments!


We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online Tech & Science team? Email us at tech@the-sun.co.uk