A Guide to Google FLEDGE Features

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By Boris Dzhingarov

When Google announced that it would start phasing out third-party cookies from the Chrome browser, digital markets had to begin thinking about potential solutions. Without third-party tracking cookies, targeted advertising would become more challenging. Marketers had to find a balance between behavior and interest tracking across the internet and ensuring customer privacy. Google has said that the second phase of third-party tracking cookies removal is set for 2024, and the tech giant is offering various solutions for marketers who will be affected by the change. The solutions that have been talked about the most are FLoC and FLEDGE.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox

The proposed solutions are part of Google’s privacy Sandbox. The Sandbox contains various proposals from marketers, agencies, developers and tech creators. It is an open-source project by Google, and stakeholders aim to find a replacement for third-party tracking cookies while ensuring added privacy protection for consumers and internet users.

Data control and customer privacy have become serious issues in recent years, with brands required to follow various regulations to comply with laws that call for added consumer privacy protection. The Sandbox allows stakeholders to develop technologies that enhance consumer privacy while providing marketers and advertisers with the tools they need to deliver personalized content.

Understanding Google FLEDGE

FLEDGE (First Locally Executed Decisions over Groups Experiment) is one of the most complete solutions from the Sandbox Project. It aims to help advertisers deliver targeted and relevant ads to consumers while respecting today’s consumer and user privacy standards.

It follows three principles established under Google’s TURTLEDOVE proposal. These are that:

  • Browsers can keep behavioral data.
  • Advertisers can have access to and use this data. However, they cannot use it in combination with other data they have collected about specific users.
  • Ad networks are barred from storing any data or information on user interests.
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Marketers can market to or target specific groups without privacy infringement when they follow these principles.

FLEDGE follows five steps, with buyers, sellers and browsers performing them.

Browsers Recording Interest Groups

FLEDGE allows tech companies, advertisers, and publishers to place users in interest groups. Doing so depends on users’ or browsing behavior, with advertisers and users allowed to own interest groups.

The advertiser or publisher can add users to an interest group using a JavaScript function. They can pass the information contained in the groups to companies that would like to participate in an auction for the ad space available in that interest group.

Users can only be placed in these interest groups for 30 days, after which the JavaScript function joinAdInterestGroup() has to be called again in their browsers to add them back to interest groups. Doing this is a way to protect user privacy as interest groups will not have enough information to learn about who a customer is from their interests and the interest groups they have been added to.

Running On-device Auctions

A seller is anyone who runs an auction on users’ devices. Publishers and advertisers can do this themselves or have tech companies do it. A seller is responsible for selecting buyers who can participate in an auction, deciding which bids are eligible, determining the desirability score of a seller depending on the bid price and metadata available, and reporting on the outcomes of auctions.

The seller has to call an API on the publisher’s page to start an auction. Interest groups only participate in an auction if their browser is in a group and the group’s owner is included in the API call. Alternatively, buyers can allow all interest groups to participate and decide who is eligible depending on the criteria set when creating the API call.

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Executing On-device Bids

Buyers who could be ad tech providers, publishers and brands pick the auctions they want to be part of. A buyer can decide whether they would like to participate in specific auctions, pick an ad and then submit it to an auction, set their metadata and bid price, and report on the outcome of an audition.

The buyer can also call a server to see how much money they have so they can set the right bid price. All servers used in this way should have no side effect apart from providing the buyer with a key-value pair for the information requested.

The Browser Shows the Ad

Once the seller has picked a winner, who could be an owner of an interest group or a publisher, the winner has to transmit the ad information. The information required is the creative and metadata, and the ad is shown in a Fenced Frame.

A Fenced Frame is a specific part of a webpage that doesn’t share data with the rest of the website. Doing this makes it impossible for publishers to collect data on users, which would be possible if the ad could collect data from the rest of the webpage.

The Fenced Frame technology is still under development, but it should be done when Google removes third-party cookies.

Event-Level Reporting

Participants in an auction, browsers, buyers and users, can purport on the auction and its outcome once it is complete and the ad has been shown to the user.  The browser calls a reporting function for the winning buyer and seller for the reporting.

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Event-level reporting still has some issues, and Google says that it is a temporary measure. The tech giant seeks to include an aggregate reporting model to improve user privacy further. Providing aggregate data and reporting will make it impossible for buyers to learn about interest groups.

Google also says it plans to make reporting available for publishers who do not win an auction. This reporting will enable losing buyers to see how many times they bid and the price where the auction closed.

Finalizing FLEDGE

Google says it is still working on FLEDGE and seeking feedback from interested groups. The company also says it will make all the relevant APIs available on its Chrome browser soon but before the complete depreciation of third-party tracking cookies.

FLEDGE is a proposal by Google that will ensure better user privacy when advertisers and marketers serve ads. It has several features that help with this, including a sandbox that does not let advertisers collect user data.