This week Google announced that it will no longer be using its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) tracking technology, but instead opting for a new interest-based targeting API named Topics.
Google described FLoC as a “way for businesses to reach people with relevant content and ads by clustering large groups of people with similar interests. This approach effectively hides individuals “in the crowd” and uses on-device processing to keep a person’s web history private on the browser.” This technology was launched in March of last year and was Google’s attempt at a replacement for third-party cookies.
However the new Topics API will instead utilise the user’s browsing history to determine their ‘topics’ of interest and share these with other sites, without the need for any external servers. Google says, “With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like “Fitness” or “Travel & Transportation,” that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history. Topics are kept for only three weeks and old topics are deleted.” This means that “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.”
What is Topics?
The new Topics API aims to be more transparent than its predecessor, FLoC and third-party cookies, as users will be able to access and control how their data is shared, in a way that is much simpler than before. Google says “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.”
A user will be able to see which topics they have been associated with (accessed within Chrome) and have the option to get rid of them. They will also have the option to opt out of the Topics tracking altogether.
The technical details have been released here which says, “The intent of the Topics API is to provide callers (including third-party ad-tech or advertising providers on the page that run script) with coarse-grained advertising topics that the page visitor might currently be interested in. These topics will supplement the contextual signals from the current page and can be combined to help find an appropriate advertisement for the visitor.”
Google has already delayed the phase out of third-party cookies and this new tracking solution gives us an insight into what the alternative may be when they do disappear. But will other browsers support the new solution? FLoC was a complete flop in terms of take-up by other browsers, with Chrome being the only one that actually used it, so it’s likely it’ll be the same story for Topics too.