Google drops FLoC as replacement for third-party cookies, opts for Topics API instead

Google drops FLoC as a replacement for third party cookies, opts for Topics instead

Google is dropping its plans to replace third-party cookies with Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), following criticism over its new approach. FLoC would have clustered groups of people together based on common interests, or browsing patterns. This information would then be shown to advertisers as a vague visualisation that wouldn't have revealed user information or web URLs for the sites they visited.

Companies like DuckDuckGo, Vivaldi, Brave and Amazon spoke out against the new system and said that this does not prevent user tracking from cookies, since groups with a few thousand users could still be a strong identifier. They also objected to letting Google decide what was and wasn't sensitive information.

Also Read: DuckDuckGo, alternative search engine, to block Google's FLoC ad-tracking tech

Now, Google is proposing an alternate solution called Topics. The new system works by identifying up to five of your interests per week while online. These can be things like fitness or travel based on your web activity.


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Google drops FLoC as replacement for third-party cookies, opts for Topics API instead

This information will then be condensed and shared with advertisers, showing them only your topics of interest and excluding any personal data. Google says initially it will have 350 topics at launch, with more added at a later date.

Your Topics information is stored on your system locally for three weeks before it is automatically deleted. If you use Chrome, then Google will let you see and edit your prefered topics, or also give you the option to opt out of Topics entirely.

When advertisers request information about your Topics, then Google will pick one topic each from the last three weeks and share them with advertisers. This will of course, be used to serve targeted ads based on your interests.

Also Read: Why is Google delaying the deprecation of cookies?

Google says it will launch a developer trial for the new API in Q1 2022 but hasn't announced a firm date yet.

The Brave browser's Web Standards Team has already spoken out against Google's new ad system, saying Google is just "Rebranding FLoC without addressing key privacy issues."

Brave also calls out the fact that Google still retains control of what is and isn't sensitive data and said that it was, "arrogant and dangerous for Google to be the arbiter of what users consider 'sensitive' data."

The team also pointed out the fact that Topics is significantly worse than FLoC when it came to smaller advertisers, since the new system only shows information to them on pages they appear on.

For larger companies like Google, whose ad systems are in place on nearly every site, this isn't a problem but smaller advertisers will suffer.

"FLoC, Privacy Sandbox, and the Topics API do not improve privacy; rather, they’re proposals to make the least private browser slightly less bad. They’re an incomplete and insufficient effort by Google to catch up with other browsers that offer real privacy protections (and that have done so for years)," wrote the Brave team.

"Activists, researchers, and journalists should call a spade a spade. Google’s latest efforts are more of the same: a way to maintain their dominance of the Web (and Web advertising), while paying lip service to “protecting” the Open Web. The Web deserves far better protectors."
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