How to Disable Google’s New ‘Privacy Sandbox’ (and Why You Want To)

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Screenshot: Brendan Hesse – Despite the name, Google and other companies can track the data and sell user information by means of the “Privacy Sandbox”

Internet users are increasingly looking for an anonymous browsing experience, which has a significant influence on advertising, e-commerce and the entire online economy. It is harder to make money if a company cannot follow you with third-party cookies. Google is trying to replace cookies called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) that Google says help maintain the privacy of users and current online business models.

You can read Google’s technology overview here, but the main point is that users have their own FLoC ID. Your identification is technically anonymous, but you are gathered in your cohorts along with other users with a similar history. Companies like Google sell cohort data to advertisers rather than selling the information to someone.

But while “private” is not entirely true on paper, as we explained before. In fact, if not more than third-party cookies, FLoC is probably as intrusive. Someone could plausibly identify some of the other serious concerns depending on the size of a cohort and on how many cohorts a person is part of the database.

The good news is that FLoC is only being implemented for Chrome—no other browser is using FLoC, not even the other Brave, Edge, or Vivaldi Chromium browsers. It is not yet ready to be implemented in full scale. Actually, Google postponed FLoC’s Chrome rollout. But it is currently in the early testing stage and it may be present as a new function called ‘Privacy Sandbox’ in your browser right now. To be fair, fewer than 1% of Chrome users are part of the Sandbox PrivacyTest, but the trial can expand over time and you might be inscribed in this new tracking form without even realizing it.

Fortunately, it is easy to see if Sandbox confidentiality is enabled, or if it is, you can block it or opt-out.

Sandbox (FLoC) Privacy In Chrome How to Check and Disable

Sandbox is only active in Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico and Philippines for a small fraction of Android and desktop Chrome users. Sandbox is available to all customers in the United States and Australia. It is not available for iOS devices (yet).

Screenshot: Brendan Hesse

However, to see if the feature is active is worth checking. The following steps apply to the Chrome versions of Android, Windows, Mac and Linux:

  1. Open Chrome and go to Settings > Privacy and Security > Privacy Sandbox.
  2. This opens the Sandbox Privacy Landingpage, even if you don’t participate in the test.
  3. When you turn on the “Privacy Sandbox Tests” button, FLoC is turned on. To disable the file, click/tap—Don’t activate it unless you want to use FLoC in Chrome.
Screenshot: Brendan Hesse

Also, the “Am I FLoCed?” website checks for the Sandbox Chrome Privacy Trial quickly. Use the steps above to disable FLoC tracking if the test is positive.

If in Chrome settings you don’t see the option, you’re not part of the trial. This does not mean, however, that in the future you will not be added to the Privacy Sandbox trial. Fortunately, Chrome users can block FLoC tracking with this browser extension from DuckDuckGo in advance.