When Google announced its plans to stop supporting third-party cookies for ads, a step away from tracking users based on their individual browser history to create personalized ads, it was like a nuclear bomb for the online advertising industry. Yesterday, Google officially started testing its alternative solution, FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), which anonymously shows ads to groups based on similar behavior. The biggest problem for the advertising industry? FLoC is entirely Google’s creation, which does not exactly appeal to the company’s competition in space. So a group of online advertisers suggest a separate alternative (with an appropriately sweet name), SWAN, Bloomberg reports.
Developed by ad-tech companies PubMatic, OpenX and Zeta Global, SWAN aims to give people more control over how their online data is used. They are asked to consent to ads when they first visit a site in the SWAN network, and will have the ability to enable customized ads with individual tracking. Bloomberg notes that there will be other options for managing their ad data, but it is unclear how these will compare to Google̵
At first glance, SWAN seems more like a desperate way to keep the glory days of targeted online ads, rather than a real step forward to a more anonymous online experience. It’s more of an answer to Google’s FLoC than a true consumer – friendly feature. But of course, Google’s motivation is also suspicious; We have argued that it basically tries to politicize itself before government regulators introduce more restrictive rules.
Consider our current moment as a transition point in the online advertising industry. When moving away from third-party cookies, everyone must find ways to deliver ads that also respect users’ privacy. FLoC and SWAN are two solutions, but we will definitely see other alternatives emerge as well. Given the magnitude of Google’s influence in the online advertising space, however, it will be much more difficult for competitors to gather around their own solutions.