Google ditches FLoC and introduces Topics

Google has unveiled a significant tweak to the solution for advertisers it intends to introduce to replace the current third-party cookies-based one.

It has killed off its original concept FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) and unveiled a new idea Topics, that it intends to introduce at the end of March.

The move comes days after German publishers submitted a report to the European Union claiming that Google’s plan to remove access to third-party cookies from its Chrome web browser was anti-competitive.

FLoC which was Google’s original plan was heavily criticised by the advertising industry with its critics claiming that it enabled fingerprinting and that advertisers would be able to piece together enough information to pinpoint a person’s unique device.

In contrast, Topics learns about a person’s interest by logging their moves around the web. The company categorises the sites that the user has visited and segments them into one of 300 topics. Advertisers will then be invited to display ads on one of the three topics that it has allocated based on a user’s browsing history. 

The system resets every three weeks and for sites that it hasn’t categorised before it will use machine learning to provide an estimated topic based on the name of the domain.

Addressing privacy issues Google will share with the user the three topics that they are seeing ads, enabling them to review and remove topics from their lists. There is also an option to turn off the entire Topics API, too.

Google sees Topics as a development of, rather than a replacement for FLoC.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox lead Ben Galbraith told the media:

“The design of topics was informed by our learnings from the earlier FLoC trials. And this resulted in a bunch of great feedback from the community.

“Topics replaces our FLoC proposal and I want to emphasise that this whole process of sharing a proposal, doing a trial, gathering feedback and then iterating on the designs — this is the whole open development process that we wanted for the Sandbox and really shows the process working as intended.”

Whether Topics is adopted is largely down to the participants in the advertising ecosystem. FLoC stalled because of concerns about privacy and its overall effectiveness. Potentially both of those criticisms could be levelled at Topics.

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