For a couple of months now, every marketer’s life has been mostly dedicated to trying to figure out what it is that they’d do once the cookie apocalypse arrived. Basically, it’s been all about clutching at straws (being straws cookies) and pretty much hoping that the day where they are truly gone never shows up. However, since we do know that the day will come, we now go the extra mile to find out how it is that we are supposed to target the right audience for our ads or create functioning funnels. And facing this situation, a couple of months ago, Google introduced their solution to marketers’ problems: FLoCs.
FLoCs, or Federated Learning of Cohorts, is Google’s alternative to tracking and targeting users. FLoCs are supposed to mean a lot more privacy and security for users because their whole point is to avoid exposing any details of individual users. And how does that work? Easy, Google now will create groups of interest among their users based on their searches and online activity, and these groups are FLoCs (sounds a bit familiar to other kinds of flock, doesn’t it?). So, if you have ever googled or visited any Taylor Swift-related websites or any The Office-related websites, or any music theatre-related websites, then welcome to my FLoC. The thing is the FLoC technique has actually been highly criticized by the rest of the tech giants because of a very wide variety of reasons.
For starters, FLoCs are extremely less profitable than cookies because they are a lot less accurate. Not every single person that searches for a subject will like to receive ads about it or will share the rest of their interests with the rest of their FLoC-mates. So targeting an ad for such a diverse group will probably not give a lot of profits. And that’s leaving aside the fact that FLoCs have a huge risk of information leak if implemented wrongly, so they aren’t really the most trustworthy solution when it comes to privacy.
And the rest of the browser giants (led by Mozilla, Safari, and Microsoft) had one common thought: Google is not forcing this on everyone because they really believe it’s a great idea (how could they!), but actually because they want to make all the profit for themselves. However, none of them gave super determined answers, and most said that, eventually, they’d be open to giving it a chance, but that for now, they’d keep searching for a more profitable and privacy-friendly alternative.
But there’s now a new giant who took a stand on the FLoC debate: Amazon is absolutely blocking Google’s FLoC tracking from all their websites. And I don’t know if you live in the same reality as I do, but I’m pretty sure that nowadays people consider Amazon their #1 option to search for products they’d like to buy. Google’s FLoC gets people’s data from their online activity and then categorizes them according to their interests. So if Amazon (huge, visited by billions of people every day!) decides that they no longer will host ads that target audiences based upon Google’s FLoCs, then Google’s lead role in the advertising world may not be so easy to maintain.
There’s also the fact that Amazon is on the way to also becoming an advertising giant if it is that they aren’t one yet. So the possibility of taking down Google from such a huge portion of the market could mean that this is Amazon’s opportunity to climb a whole bunch of steps in the advertising industry’s staircase. So why wouldn’t they take it?
And the most interesting thing is that they didn’t release a communication informing everyone that this would be happening, they simply inserted a FLoC-blocking code silently, and just like that Google was out of their system. According to this article, inner sources said that this might be just an Amazon test since they are not implementing it in all of their domains.
However, they have stated some reasons to not want anything to do with Google’s FLoCs. For starters, they believe their users’ research, reviews and purchases are a part of their property, and should not be owned, seen, or shared by anyone else. Simply, their shoppers’ valuable data are not some other browser’s to take. Amazon also believes that it’s a bit too invasive for Google to try and get their users’ data, since, according to themselves, you are what you browse for in Amazon. And no, that wasn’t said in any marketing-related way at all. And of course, there’s the competitive component. With Google out of the picture, there’s a lot more room for Amazon to start making more and more earnings from ads.
I don’t know what you have to say, but at least to me, all these reasons seem to make a lot of sense, and I’d also advise Amazon to leave them aside. I do have to say that I’m impressed by how honest they were about it. I mean, these days, it is not a surprise that people/companies say that they have one reason for doing something, and then actually have a whole different world of reasons. However, Amazon simply came clean and said “yes, we care about our users’ privacy, but we also care about making the most profit possible”. And that’s something that I congratulate them on.
So, to conclude, I’d like to bring one more thought to the table: if more and more ad giants are turning their backs to Google, then where are the FLoCs actually going? In order to make publishers interested, they definitely need a technique they can trust to bring them profit, because why would they use them if that didn’t happen? So it seems that the post-cookie-apocalypse world has fewer certainties than ever. As for now, all we can do is sit back and see what’s next on our tech-giants soap opera.