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Can FLoC be rescued with publisher input? Google thinks so but many remain unconvinced

According to Rob Beeler, Founder and CEO of Beeler.Tech which specializes in digital publisher ad monetization, Google is regularly meeting with representatives from approximately 20 larger publishers in a bid to rescue its Privacy Sandbox initiative.

Digiday reports that the publishers, mostly from large Comscore 50 media properties, have been meeting with Google since March of this year in order to give publishers a bigger say in the development of Google’s own solution to the sunsetting of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser in late 2023.

We take every opportunity to engage with publishers and to listen, share information and solicit feedback on how we can build for a better future.

Google, speaking with Digiday, August 2021

However, despite extending an olive branch to the publisher fraternity, Google faces a steep uphill climb to convince publishers that its Privacy Sandbox initiative is anything other than a solution soaked in self-interest.

The Mountain View tech giant claims its privacy sandbox solution, called FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), will produce 95% of the per-dollar conversions that third-party cookies previously achieved. Despite this, it has met with widespread resistance and although a number of publishers are testing the sandbox this year (AdThrive, CafeMedia), the criticism is gathering momentum – this is significant, as Google is designing FLoC to become a fundamental part of the web, not just Chrome.

Writing in WNIP’s free report launched this month, ‘Which Way Now? Publisher Options For The Ending of Third-Party Cookies‘, Hazel Broadley describes how FLoC has so many drawbacks it will likely result in it constituting only a small part of the replacement of third-party cookies. A key reason is that larger, premium publishers are disincentivized from opting in because their sites provide a disproportionate amount of user data compared with smaller publishers.

Jakob Bak, Co-founder at Adform, believes that whilst larger publishers will experiment with FLoC, it won’t constitute more than 30% of any media plan, and that ultimately, many publishers will end up disabling it.

In a data-siloed world, where larger publishers build data on top of their first-party IDs, long-tail publishers will lose out.

Jakob Bak, Co-founder, Adform

This is echoed by a survey from Teads which reveals how publishers are evaluating the various alternatives to third-party cookies: 27.6% are exploring first-party data, 27% contextual, 21.8% universal ID, and only 18% FLoC.

On an even more concerning note, several web browsers (Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi, and Opera) have already announced they will not support FLoC in its current form because it fails to provide sufficient user privacy. Meanwhile, privacy-minded search engine DuckDuckGo has rejected it outright.

This comes on top of the UK’s CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) investigation into whether FLoC is likely to distort competition as well as an EU investigation to determine whether Google violated antitrust rules by favoring its own ads in the online auctions it manages using current cookie technology.

Will increased publisher input help Google rescue its FLoC proposals? Time will tell but early signs are far from promising. As Teads remarks in its publisher survey from earlier this year, “Ultimately, most publishers are seeing this as a waiting game to see who comes out on top”. At this juncture, it looks unlikely that FLoC will be hoisting its flag on the summit anytime soon.