So it’s farewell to FLoC, as Google kills off its controversial and unloved proposed system to replace 3rd party advertising cookies. FLoC had come in for strong criticism, prompting Google first to delay introduction, and now to drop it completely.
In a blog post yesterday, Google introduced its new proposed solution for interest-based advertising, called Topics, which replaces FLoC.
Topics works by learning about your interests through your web activity. The Topics API determines top topics of interest for a week based on your browsing history, without involving any external servers, and shares these with participating sites. Topics are kept for 3 weeks, and old topics are deleted.
“Topics are selected entirely on your device without involving any external servers, including Google servers. When you visit a participating site, Topics picks just three topics, one topic from each of the past three weeks, to share with the site and its advertising partners.”
The browser will use a limited set of topics selected from a human-curated, publicly visible list, and is starting off with around 350 topics.
Topics are curated to exclude sensitive categories such as gender or race.
Google says it is building user controls in Chrome which will allow you to see and remove topics, or disable the feature completely.
The final design and other technical aspects of how Topics works will be determined based on trials and user feedback.
Google defines Topics as a proposal designed to “preserve privacy while showing relevant content and ads”. Specific sites you’ve visited won't be shared across the web, as they might have been with third-party cookies.
The use of third-party cookies makes it possible to monitor a user’s specific browsing history and associate it to their personal identity.
“Because Topics is powered by the browser, it provides you with a more recognizable way to see and control how your data is shared, compared to tracking mechanisms like third-party cookies. And, by providing websites with your topics of interest, online businesses have an option that doesn’t involve covert tracking techniques, like browser fingerprinting, in order to continue serving relevant ads.”
Google’s graphic below shows cookies (left) vs Topics (right).
Image source: Google
The FLoC pushback
Google is committed to phasing out 3rd-party cookies and has been working on proposed replacement systems.
FLoC worked by using browser history to split users into cohorts, then sharing that with websites and advertisers. It was poorly received industry wide, with widespread pushback and lack of adoption. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) described it as “designed to help advertisers perform behavioral targeting without third-party cookies.” and said it created new privacy risks such as fingerprinting.
Timeline for Topics
Google says the technology is still in the early stages of development. The timeline will be informed by the results of trials and feedback.