Topics, FLoC replacementOrbitalAds
Topics are Google's new proposal to replace FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) and to finish giving up Cookies as a system to personalize advertising on the Internet.
The introduction of Topics comes on the heels of ongoing pressure on Google over personal data privacy, which has led it to scrap FLoC and look for another alternative for ad personalization.
What are cookies?
A "cookie" is a data file stored in the browser of the user's device, created when you visit a website.
Third-party cookies are stored by a service that operates across multiple sites. For example, an advertising platform may store a cookie when you visit a news site, while first-party cookies are stored by the website itself.
The information contained in cookies makes it possible to track your online activity in order to relate it to relevant content, including advertisements.
At the same time, these cookies can be used to identify individuals and collect large amounts of their personal data.
How do Topics work?
Topics are an advertising personalization system based on general categories built from the interests collected from the user's browsing history.
With Topics, the browser defines a series of themes, such as "fitness" or "travel", which represent the user's top interests based on their browsing history.
When a user visits a website participating in the Privacy Sandbox initiative, a topic corresponding to each of the last three weeks is shared with the user and its advertisers.
This process is carried out entirely on the user's device, without the intervention of any external server, Google's or otherwise.
And because Topics is browser-associated, it gives users greater transparency and control over how their data is shared, compared to other tracking mechanisms such as third-party cookies.
According to Google, from 2023, only the top five topics present on the websites visited by the user in the last week will be recorded through Google Chrome (the most widely used, with a 66% market share).
In the case of Chrome, controls are being developed that allow the user to see what these themes are, remove those that do not interest him or her and even disable the functionality completely.
Thus, the idea is no longer to group individuals into well-segmented groups and assign them a random identifier, but to study the themes around which their browsing revolves.
Another important aspect is that Topics do not contain potentially sensitive categories, for example, racial or gender.
Topics inform websites of topics of interest to the user, offering online businesses an option that does not involve covert tracking techniques, such as browser fingerprinting, to present relevant ads.
A test of Topics for web developers and the advertising industry, including user controls, will soon be launched in Chrome so they can evaluate it.
As with all Google products, user feedback will be used to decide the final design of the user controls and all other technical aspects of how Topics will work.
What is FLoC?
Based on the Privacy Sandbox concept and using open source technology, its goal was to allow advertisers to display relevant ads on the Internet without tracking people, protecting their privacy.
The concept is to assign users to very large groups, a cohort of thousands of people with similar recent browsing activity, without any of them being individually identified.
In this way, user's personal browsing history does not leave their browser or device and is not shared with anyone.
Critics argue that while FLoC may be privacy-enhancing compared to cookies, it could also create new risks such as discrimination or the ability to examine how our interests change over time.
Will Topics have the success that FLoC did not have?
For the time being, the company has published on GitHub the technical details of its new proposal that, as mentioned above, will replace FLoC.
The search engine has been trying to change the way ads work on the Internet for some time now. As part of their ambitious plan, they had established a roadmap in which, after two phases, in 2023 they would say goodbye to cookies in Chrome.
Google proposed FLoC, a system that, unlike cookies that track user activity across the web to provide it to advertisers, was based on common interests replacing individual identifiers.
For the time being, it remains to be seen how users and the industry will respond to this new alternative. It should be remembered that Google obtains a large part of its income from digital advertising and that the success of this type of system is very important for its business model.