Saturday, March 2, 2024

Google abandons FLoC, proposes new ‘Topics’ API to replace cookies

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To reduce the risk of fingerprinting, Google plans to limit the list proposed to around 350 topics.

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What you need to know

  • Google has given up on the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).
  • The search giant has now proposed the Topics API as a replacement for third-party cookies.
  • Google claims the Topics API will take user privacy a “step forward,” while ensuring advertisers receive enough relevant information.

Back in August 2019, Google introduced a new initiative called Privacy Sandbox to enhance privacy for users on the web. As part of the initiative, Google plans to eliminate third-party cookies completely and replace them with first-party alternatives.

While Google proposed Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) as an alternative to third-party cookies last year, it has now announced a new Privacy Sandbox proposal informed by its “learning and widespread community feedback from earlier FLoC trials.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9jzqbdxAdk?modestbranding=0&html5=1&rel=0&autoplay=0&wmode=opaque&loop=0&controls=1&autohide=0&showinfo=0&theme=dark&color=red&enablejsapi=1]

Topics, which is the search giant’s new Privacy Sandbox proposal, will replace its FLoC proposal. The Topics API will allow your browser to determine a few topics that represent your top interests for that week, based on your browsing history.

Google says topics are stored for only three weeks, and old topics are deleted. What’s more, topics will be selected by the browser entirely on your device. No external servers will be involved. Google is expected to share the full list of available topics publicly sometime later this year.

When a user visits a participating site, Topics will pick three topics to share with the site and its advertising partners. Google is also building user controls that will allow you to see the topics and remove any that you don’t want to be selected. You will even be able to disable the feature completely.

Google also notes that topics are “thoughtfully curated to exclude sensitive categories, such as gender, sexual orientation, or race.” Since Topics is browser-powered, it gives you much greater control over how websites share your data with advertisers.

Google is set to kill third-party cookies in Chrome sometime in 2023. While Topics does sound like a solid alternative to cookies, it remains to be seen if it will be accepted by the best Chrome alternatives such as Firefox and Microsoft Edge.

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