Google drops FLoC and launches Topics, a new Privacy Sandbox initiative for interest-based advertising

Google has today released Topics, a new Privacy Sandbox proposal for interest-based advertising.

Topics was informed by the platform’s learning and widespread community feedback from Google’s earlier FLoC trials, and will replace its previous FLoC proposal.

FLoC, which stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts, was Google’s solution to enabling advertisers to create targeted ads without exposing the details of the individual users being targeted, via the use of third-party cookies. It was part of Google’s Privacy Sandbox, that aimed to create web technologies that both protect people’s privacy online and give companies and developers the tools to build digital businesses successfully.

With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like “Fitness” or “Travel & Transportation,” that represent top interests for that week based on a user’s browsing history.

“Topics are kept for only three weeks and old topics are deleted, and then are selected entirely on a user’s device without involving any external servers, including Google servers,” said Chrome Privacy Sandbox product lead, Vinay Goel. “When a user visits 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. Topics enables browsers to give the user meaningful transparency and control over this data, and in Chrome, Google said it’s building user controls that let users see the topics, remove any the user doesn’t like or disable the feature completely.”

Example illustrations of what users can see about third-party cookies (left) vs Topics (right). In Chrome, Google plan to make Topics easier to understand and manage for users.

More importantly, Topics are curated to exclude sensitive categories, such as gender or race. Because Topics is powered by the browser, it provides the user with a more recognisable way to see and control how the user’s data is shared, compared to tracking mechanisms like third-party cookies.

In addition, by providing websites with the user’s 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.

Soon, Google said it will launch a developer trial of Topics in Chrome that includes user controls, and enables website developers and the ads industry to trial it. The final design of the user controls and the other various technical aspects of how Topics works will be decided based on the user’s feedback and what Google learns in the trial.


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