DuckDuckGo released a new version of its browser extension, called DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials, for all supported web browsers this week. The new version blocks FLoC interactions on websites to protect the privacy of users.
If you have not heard about FLoC yet, it is Google’s attempt to shift advertising from a cookie-based system to one that does not require cookies anymore. Basically, what it does is assign a user to a cohort — FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. A cohort is made up of thousands of users who share similar interests.
While that sounds like a nice thing to do on first glance, it is not. You can check out the EFF’s Google’s FLoC is a Terrible Idea to better understand why FLoC is not necessarily better for Internet users in terms of privacy and tracking.
A final FLoC standard has not been released yet and many things are still discussed and modified.
Here are the main points of criticism leveled against FLoC at the time of writing:
- Website operators and advertisers learn about a user’s interests when the user visits the site, even if it is the first visit.
- FLoC makes fingerprinting easier.
- FLoC, when combined with user identifying technologies, such as account sign-ins, gives site owners and advertisers a clear picture of the user’s interest.
- Cohorts should not related to “sensitive categories” such as race, gender or religion, and to avoid this, the algorithm needs to tweak groups to avoid implicating a user based on such a group. In order to to that, Google needs to analyze the data based on these sensitive categories.
Test whether FLoC is enabled in your browser
Google runs an origin trial in its Chrome web browser at the time of writing that affects 0.5% of users in select regions.
The EFF has created a webpage that checks if FLoC is enabled in the browser. FLoC is only supported by Google Chrome at the time of writing; it remains to be seen if it will be included by default in other Chromium-based browsers, or if third-party developers will disable it.
To test, if your browser uses FLoC, visit the Am I Floced website and activate the test button to find out about it.
The DuckDuckGo extension
If you are using Google Chrome, you may install the DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials extension to block FLoC.
DuckDuckGo explains on its Spread Privacy website that the @FLoC blocking feature is included in version 2021.4.8 and newer of the DuckDuckGo extension”.
The blocking is enabled automatically when the extension is installed.
DuckDuckGo for Chrome can be installed from the Chrome Web Store. The latest version is not yet available in the Store.