Online advertisers take on Google with their own third-party cookie alternative

Google has "FLoC"; these advertisers propose "SWAN."

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When Google announced its plans to stop supporting third-party cookies for ads, a move away from tracking users based on their individual browsing history to create personalized ads, it was like a nuclear bomb for the online advertising industry. Yesterday, Google started officially testing its alternative solution, FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), which anonymously serves ads to groups based on similar behavior. The major problem for the ad industry? FLoC is entirely Google's creation, which isn't exactly appealing to the company's competition in the space. So a group of online advertisers is proposing an alternative (with an appropriately cute name) of their own, 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'll be asked to consent to ads when they first visit a site within the SWAN network, and will have the option of enabling personalized ads with individual tracking. Bloomberg notes that there will be other options for handling their ad data, but it's unclear how those will compare to Google's anonymized FLoC technology. Once you've configured your settings within the SWAN network, they'll be shared across supported sites. You'll also be able to change your preferences across the network on any site.

At first glance, SWAN seems more like a desperate way to hold onto the glory days of targeted online ads, rather than a genuine step forward to a more anonymous browsing experience. It's more a response to Google's FLoC than a genuine consumer-friendly move. But of course, Google's motivation is suspect as well; we've argued that it's basically trying to police itself before government regulators impose more restrictive rules.

Consider our current moment as a transition point in the online ad industry. With the move away from third-party cookies, everyone will need to find ways to deliver ads that also honor users' data privacy. FLoC and SWAN are two solutions, but we'll definitely see other alternatives crop up too. Given the size of Google's influence in the online ad space, though, it'll be much more difficult for competitors to band together for their own solutions.