Google receives a lot of criticism for its new way of tracking. WordPress even wants to technically prevent the technique – for a large part of the web.
The blog hosting project WordPress is extremely widespread and, according to its own information, is used on more than 40 percent of all websites on the Internet. The development team now wants to take advantage of this and simply block the tracking technology Floc (Federated Learning of Cohorts) proposed by Google in its software, as it says in the WordPress blog. For this purpose, the HTTP headers used for Floc are to be considered a “security risk” and simply filtered out.
The implementation would thus be distributed as a kind of security update for WordPress instead of as a new feature in one of the upcoming versions, which underlines the urgency of the work. The team even describes this as a backport. This approach is also chosen because a large part of WordPress installations only install updates, but do not switch to newer versions.
With the Floc, Google is testing an alternative to advertising tracking via third-party cookies. The ads are to be displayed to specific user clusters or cohorts based on their interests instead of being completely individualized via the cookies, as was previously the case. For this purpose, the browser history on the users’ devices is to be evaluated and the result of this evaluation, i.e. the assignment to a cohort, is to be passed on via the API.
Broad criticism of Floc
There has been a lot of criticism of this idea since it was announced. For example, the US competition authority is investigating the implementation. Likewise, all other browser manufacturers have already opposed the Floc idea. The US civil rights organization EFF even describes the technology as a “terrible idea” and sees it as a danger to users’ privacy.
WordPress is now also repeating the EFF’s arguments, writing that the WordPress community can “help fight racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ + discrimination, and discrimination against people with mental illnesses with four lines of code.” After all, one of the fears of Floc critics is that people who are affected by the aforementioned discriminations could be automatically grouped by Floc and then in turn be exposed to corresponding discrimination. This is therefore not an alternative to the previous tracking and possibly even more dangerous, because it is easier than before.
The decision of WordPress is furthermore a weighing of the interests of website visitors and users as well as their operators. Especially since many of the latter would not even know that they would have to actively intervene in order to take action against the experiment with the Floc. WordPress could now do that for them.