Google has recently unveiled its Topics API as a new method for tracking cookies and offering interest-based advertising. The Topics API will replace FLoC.
According to The Verge, the Topics API can monitor your web activities per week and determine five of your interests, like “Fitness” or “Travel & Transportation.” Then, it offers advertisements based on those interests. In the advertising taxonomy of the Topics API GitHub page, 350 topics are currently available. Google is looking to add to this.
These topics will remain in your browser for three weeks before deleting. Also, the Topics reveal only three of your interests to the websites you visit and “one topic from each of the past three weeks.” According to Google, these categories don’t involve “any external servers, including Google servers,” and “are selected entirely on your device.”
Google says that the categories won’t include sensitive items like race and gender. Moreover, Google is working on new tools for Chrome users to allow them view, remove, or turn off the topics. The company also wants to launch a developer trial for Topics in Chrome.
Google is killing FLoC but still tracking its users
Google previously promised to replace third-party cookies in the Chrome browser by 2023. Since we are in early 2022, Google still has one year to keep its promises.
While the Topics API seems to be a suitable replacement for FLoC, it still tracks users and gives advertising offerings based on activities. According to John Bergmayer, the legal director at Public Knowledge, “Browsers have traditionally worked only for the users” and “Google’s concepts on this topic seem to flip that.”
FLoC ( Federated Learning of Cohorts) had a similar mechanism to Topics API and identified users’ interests by tracking. Privacy advocates have always believed that using these methods is a gross violation of privacy and poses risks. For example, advertisers can identify your device, browser, or even demographic information. Some privacy-focused browsers like Brave, Vivaldi, Edge, and Mozilla refused to use such methods.
Bennett Cyphers, a staff technologist at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), says that Topics API has some improvements over FLoC. However, “being less scary than FLoC doesn’t mean it’s ‘good.’ It will tell third-party trackers about what kind of sites you browse, and it could help websites and advertisers ID you across devices.”
Simply put, though, Google has tried to tell users that we track you less by allowing them to control activity data. But the reality is that collecting and sharing user data with advertisers continues. Google is trying to read this story in a new way for users. However, there is no change in the essence of the story.