FLoC by Google - A Short Story  

Once upon a time, there was a village buzzing with happy lives. They used to visit their neighbours, interact with them. They used to have fun in their own little way. Each family was unique, and their likings were different.

Google is leading the charge to replace third-party cookies with a new suite of technologies to target ads on the Web.

One fine day, the villagers started seeing small pandals set up at the outer rim of the village. They had a few attractive, but unnecessary items on display, being distributed either free or dirt cheap. Most villagers ignored these new structures as they looked harmless – they were far away and not visible unless you scoured for them.

However, soon the village was full of ugly advertisements of varying sizes and colours for items they had no interest in. The villagers hated the situations; fretful murmurs were heard across every nook and cranny.

And some of its proposals show that it hasn’t learned the right lessons from the ongoing backlash to the surveillance business model.

Soon a messiah arrived - he proposed to the pandal owners that he would handle the villager’s anxiety; he proposed to the villagers that they will only see relevant ads. Soon, though, the moment a villager visited any of these pandals, a person tagged along, following him or her. The follower kept a track of whom they paid a visit, the paths they took.

Soon, even while on a casual stroll, the villagers would see their designated tracker holding a placard advertising an item from the pandal. The complaining returned; the villagers started avoiding, even blocking the trackers. The messiah was messiah no more; he realized he had to get ahead of the game.

Google’s pitch to privacy advocates is that a world with FLoC (and other elements of the “privacy sandbox”) will be better than the world we have today, where data brokers and ad-tech giants track and profile with impunity.

So, he pitched a new solution – he uttered a little mumbo-jumbo stuff that the flock of villagers and pandal owners could hardly understand. They did attentively listen to him, nonetheless. Once he was done with his pitch, a wise old man gathered the courage, slowly stood up and asked, “Will you still assign a designated tracker to follow me as I do my shit?”

“Yes,” said the messiah. “But that tracker will be blindfolded; he could never know who you are. And no pandal owner will know that too.”

“Nice, thank you for being so thoughtful,” quipped the wise old man. “Just one more question, though. Will you know?”

The messiah smirked, “Of course, I would.”

The elder sighed and slumped down in his chair.

But that framing is based on a false premise that we have to choose between “old tracking” and “new tracking.” It’s not either-or. Instead of re-inventing the tracking wheel, we should imagine a better world without the myriad problems of targeted ads.


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