Google has dropped FLoC to replace third-party cookies in advertising favoring new Topics API
Google introduced the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) as a replacement for third-party cookies used to target relevant adverts on websites from the start of 2021. Google recently presented the Topics API as a new option in response to criticism and comments over the past year.
By 2023, Google aims to stop using third-party cookies in Chrome. To that end, it’s developing a set of privacy-preserving options known as the Privacy Sandbox. The most attention-getting project was FLoC, which entailed using on-device machine learning methods to cluster “huge groups of users with similar browsing patterns” into a “cohort.” The actual list of URLs visited by users does not leave their browsers thanks to federated learning.
FLoC has also been chastised because of fears that it could still be used to track users. WordPress and Amazon have disabled it, and no other browser has expressed interest in adopting it.
Following “widespread community feedback” from the trial period, Google has decided to replace its FLoC proposal with the Topics API. The Subjects API operates by determining topics that “reflect your top interests for that week based on your browsing history” in an on-device way using your browser (Chrome). “A classifier model will be used to map site hostnames to subjects,” according to Chrome.
Fitness, travel, and news are among the 350 topics available at the start. Topics are saved for three weeks before being automatically removed, and Chrome allows users to view and delete their topics at any time — or turn off the feature entirely. Google claims that topics are “carefully vetted” by humans and that “potentially sensitive categories, such as gender or race, will not be included.”
When you visit a site that requests your topics, your browser will choose three to share with publication and advertising partners — “one topic from each of the previous three weeks.” These third parties will use your information to deliver advertising based on your interests and subjects. For example, if you are looking for an app to share SMS, you will probably see ads regarding such applications.
By the end of Q1 2022, a developer trial of the Topics API will be available in Chrome. Websites and the advertising sector will be able to test while topic deletion rules are in place. The efficiency of the Topics API for advertisements in comparison to third-party cookies is still unknown.
The Topics API appears to be more generalized than FLoC. Google hopes to “make Topics easier to understand and manage for users” than cookies. This technical explainer contains further information.