Google stops with the ‘FLoC’ technology after criticism. However, the company also has an alternative ready to replace cookies, a new system called ‘Topics’.
Those Topics should also allow advertisers to target specific users based on their interests. The updated system would be in the Chrome browser by the end of 2023 and replace the current cookies there.
Google’s new proposal comes after plans the company announced last year around ‘FLoC’ or Federated League of Cohorts were dropped. According to opponents, they were privacy-unfriendly and anti-competitive.
With Topics, Google still wants to link users to their interests, but those themes seem broader at first sight. This concerns, for example, ‘sport’, ‘fitness’ and ‘travel and transport’. The topics are assigned weekly based on recent searches and automatically removed after three weeks, Google writes in a blog post.
The algorithm that analyzes your browsing history for your interests-of-the-week runs locally. Browsers can then address that API to get up to three topics on which to show ads. “When you visit a participating website, Topics will choose only three themes, one theme from each of the past three weeks, to share with the website and its advertising partners,” Google said.
Chrome users will also be given the option to remove themes associated with them or disable Topics altogether. In addition, the system will not use “sensitive categories, such as gender and race,” the blog post continues.
The company talks about “meaningful transparency and control over data” for users. For companies, the system will continue to offer ‘relevant advertising’ without ‘hidden tracking techniques’, it says. The currently common tracking cookies keep track of which websites users visit exactly, but there has been resistance to this for some time, including from the EU.
Research shows, for example, that you can identify people based on their search history alone, with all the associated privacy implications. Many other browsers, such as Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox, have already taken measures against cookies. However, as the world’s largest ad vendor, Google is interested in developing an alternative system that does not affect its business model.
FLoC, the system that Google tried to set up until recently, got rid of tracking cookies but also classified people based on their search history and interests. This prompted protests from privacy activists and from advertisers, who saw the move as a way for Google to strengthen its position in the advertising market. Without cookies, those other advertisers would have a hard time doing business.