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For anyone in the digital marketing space, the removal of third-party cookies has been a critical moment in the evolution of consumer privacy and advertising strategies. When Google announced its decision to begin phasing out third-party tracking cookies from its Chrome web browser in January 2020, marketers everywhere began scrambling to find alternative solutions that would allow for behavior and interest tracking across the web without infringing on customers’ privacy rights. With the timeline for the end of third-party cookies now set for second half 2024, Google is stepping forward with potential solutions that could help marketers reach customers in what they’ve called a “more privacy-first web.”
The totality of those proposed solutions is called Google’s Privacy Sandbox. The Sandbox has so far generated a range of proposals from ad tech creators, developers, agencies, and other stakeholders in the marketing world. So far, two solutions have dominated the conversation: FLoC and Google FLEDGE.
FLEDGE is the next step forward in helping marketers and brands find alternative ways of tracking consumer behavior for advertising purposes. This article will briefly introduce Google’s Privacy Sandbox, define Google FLEDGE, and explain why it will be an essential tool for brands in the future.
The Privacy Sandbox is an open-source collaboration between Google, ad tech engineers, developers, privacy experts, and marketers created to find effective tracking solutions to replace the third-party cookie and help the worldwide web evolve into a more privacy-oriented space for consumers. Customer privacy and control over data have become a hot-button topic for both consumers and advertisers — brands increasingly need to comply with new data laws that attempt to ensure customer privacy.
Within the Privacy Sandbox, participants are developing new technologies to improve privacy standards and provide advertisers with the tools they need to engage users with personalized content.
One of the most complete solutions yet proposed through the Privacy Sandbox project, FLEDGE is the first real tool available that claims to let advertisers deliver ads while respecting the modern era’s new standards around privacy. It operates on three main principles established within Google’s TURTLEDOVE proposal, which seeks to set standards for data sharing:
Browsers may hold users’ behavioral data
Advertisers can use this data but cannot combine it with other data collected while delivering ads to the user
Ad networks may not store users’ interest data
This framework strives to make it possible to market to groups separated by interest without infringing on privacy rules.
So, what is Google FLEDGE? It’s a proposal for a workflow (using FLoC API technologies) that will help marketers connect with relevant user groups and deliver personalized ad content. FLEDGE stands for “First Locally Executed Decisions over Groups Experiment.” It consists of five primary steps executed by browsers, buyers, and sellers.
At its core, FLEDGE is about letting publishers, advertisers, and ad tech companies assign (anonymous) users to specific interest groups. Browsing behavior and activity define these interest groups. Publishers or advertisers can own interest groups.
Buyers (those seeking the ability to publish ads — could be a brand, a publisher, or an ad tech provider) decide which auctions to participate in. At this point, the buyer will define the ad itself and enter it into the auction platform along with metadata and a price. Buyers and sellers will be able to define their own needs for metadata with each ad.
When the seller entity has declared a winner for the auction, the winning buyer (who could be a publisher or the owner of an interest group) transmits the ad information — including metadata and creative — to the browser, which renders the ad inside a protected area the Google FLEDGE project calls a Fenced Frame.
The idea behind the Fenced Frame is that it’s a secure area within a greater webpage that does not share user data with the rest of the web page. This prevents brands and web hosts from collecting user data on the web page and combining it with browser data, which would infringe on user privacy. However, the technology to make Fenced Frames possible is still under development.
With the auction complete and the ad successfully displayed and served to the relevant user within an interest group, participants (including the seller, buyer and browser) can record outcome data from the auction. This will help buyers craft better ads and more cost-effective bids for the opportunity to engage with users. Bidders who did not win the auction can also access this data in order to improve their bidding strategies in the future.
Google FLEDGE is still being developed and refined by the stakeholders in the Privacy Sandbox, and there will likely be much more information coming down the pike both from Google and from entities making use of the solution. FLEDGE will be available on a trial basis through Chrome in 2022, and real-world data will help its creators improve the workflow to better suit the needs of advertisers and publishers while protecting user privacy.
Originally published on February 17th, 2022, last updated on July 28th, 2022.