Amazon blocks Google’s FLoC – and it could seriously weaken nascent tracking system

Amazon blocks Google’s controversial cookie-less tracking and targeting method.

Most Amazon properties, including Amazon.com, WholeFoods.com, and Zappos.com, prevent Google’s tracking system FLoC – or Federated Learning of Cohorts – from collecting valuable data reflecting products searched across the vast universe of Amazon e-commerce, according to the website code. analyzed by Digiday and three tech experts who helped Digiday revise the code.

Amazon declined to comment for this story.

As Google’s system collects data on internet users’ journeys to show how it categorizes them, Amazon’s move under the radar could not only be a blow to Google’s mission to guide the future of the world. tracking digital ads after cookies die – this could give Amazon an in its own effort to sell advertising on what’s left of the open web.

“This decision directly correlates with Google’s attempt to provide an alternative to the third-party cookie,” said Amanda Martin, vice president of corporate partnerships at digital agency Goodway Group. She called Amazon’s choice to block FLoC on most of its sites as another example of the chess moves Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are making as pressures on data privacy force destruction. the basis of data tracking on the Internet: the third-party cookie.

With the help of three technologists, Digiday observed last week that Amazon was adding code to its digital properties to prevent FLoC from tracking visitors using Google’s Chrome browser. For example, while at the start of the week, WholeFoods.com and Woot.com had not included a code to block FLoC, on Thursday, Digiday found that these sites had a code telling Google’s system not to include the activities of their visitors to inform cohorts or assign identifiers. But Amazon’s blockage seems dispersed. While one of the technologists saw these two sites block FLoC, another did not, and said Amazon’s rollout could be evident on different servers in different parts of the country.

Google says FLoC is meant to protect people’s privacy because it uses machine learning to group them based on the web pages they’ve visited rather than tracking them on an individual level. Right now, the system is in a pilot phase, pulling together data showing what websites, content, and products people are interested in.

Why Amazon is blocking FLoC

While it may seem obvious that Amazon wants to end any Google initiative, there are many reasons for the company to hinder FLoC’s success.

First, Amazon wants to protect its intellectual property – the valuable data it has that shows what products people search, review, and buy online. With an influx of buyers expected to flock to the site during its Prime Days on June 21 and 22, now is the time to put in an electric fence preventing Google from feeding on this valuable data. Already, as Digiday reported last week, ad technology companies and agencies are collecting and analyzing FLoC credentials in hopes of improving targeting and identification capabilities. Simply put, it’s not in Amazon’s best interest to let outsiders like Google or other ad technology companies profit from its valuable buyer data.

Without Amazon visitors in the mix, Google’s FLoC could be at a disadvantage, said an agency official who spoke anonymously with Digiday. If Amazon had chosen not to block FLoC, the company could have helped Google by enabling “dramatically improved results from certain FLoC purchases in the market,” the executive said. Already, Google’s claims about the performance of the method have been subject to scrutiny.

Amazon’s move is a “huge restriction” on Google’s collection of buyer data, said one of the technologists who helped Digiday research this story and asked not to be named. “What you browse on Amazon is who you are,” said the source, who works with data related to ad technology.

In addition, blocking FLoC is a competitive decision. Amazon has its own aspirations to recoup more ad dollars that Google controls by selling digital ads outside of Amazon properties. As Amazon’s demand-side platform business takes off, the company plans to launch an identifier for tracking and measuring ads sold through DSP and by publishers through Amazon’s publisher services division. “This reinforces [Amazon’s] DSP proposing to block it, ”said the director of the agency.

“Why give Google a thumbs up? Asked another Amazon-focused agency executive who also spoke to Digiday on condition of anonymity.

However, while preventing FLoC from becoming a preferred alternative to third-party cookie tracking could help Amazon, the company is losing some information that could be useful to it by blocking FLoC. Like other publishers preventing the tracking method, Amazon will not be able to intercept any clues provided by FLoC IDs that give a window into people’s behavior. Arguably, this information is of limited value to Amazon given the wealth of information on connected shoppers it has.

Why an Amazon site lets FLoC in

Amazon-owned e-commerce sites, including WholeFoods, Zappos, ShopBop, and GoodReads, display code that blocks FLoC; However, at least as of this story’s publication, the Amazon-owned book selling site AbeBooks was not blocking her.

Amazon may have a motive for allowing Google trackers to take note of the content and books that AbeBooks visitors view, the agency’s second official speculated. “They don’t just do stuff,” the executive said of Amazon’s deliberate approach. “It has to be some test,” the executive said. For example, while Amazon has a lot of data internally about people’s interests in books, the company might want to know what FLoC IDs tell them about the interests of AbeBooks visitors offsite, have- they added.

Amazon might also want to see how its own ad tracking and targeting compares to Google’s in any control test. “You could then put Google in its own horse race without telling them,” the executive said.

But, Amazon could also consider stopping FLoC tracking on AbeBooks, according to ad technology researcher Krzysztof Franaszek, who has conducted research on FLoC and helped check Amazon’s FLoC block for this story. The company “probably has different teams responsible for these websites,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t realize it.”


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