Difficulty balancing advertising and privacy? Google repeals FLoC, launches new ad serving scheme

Advertising is an important condition for Internet content to be freely available to the public. For many years, the cookie technology that can track the IP of the device has become the key to the accurate delivery of Internet advertisements. What users browse, search, and input will be pushed to relevant advertisements immediately. For many users, this is often “creepy”. In January 2020, Google announced that Chrome would gradually turn off third-party cookies to protect user privacy.

What's Google FLoC? And How Does It Affect Your Privacy? | WIRED

But turning off cookies doesn’t mean the disappearance of personalized advertising. For two years, Google launched the controversial FLoC project to replace cookies, but FLoC ultimately failed. On January 25th, Google announced a new ad tracking solution to replace FLoC called Topics.

The FLoC page on the GitHub website states that “this solution has been replaced by the Topics API”.

Google FLoC: A Third-Party Cookie Alternative - CookieYes

FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) is a project proposed by Google in 2019. Google once claimed that this is a “privacy-first” advertising technology. Rather than targeting each user with a cookie, FLoC groups users into “groups” based on their browsing history for interest-based advertising. This approach effectively “hides” the individual from the crowd and processes the data locally on the device to keep personal information private on the browser.

But then, FLoC was met with a lot of questioning and opposition. For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has criticized Google for banning third-party cookies and requiring advertisers to join FLoC, which is anti-competitive behavior and “Google is appointing itself as a gatekeeper.” The Economist reports that Google may have a hard time “preventing the system from grouping people by characteristics they want to keep secret, such as race or sexual orientation.”

Google kills off FLoC, replaces it with Topics | TechCrunch

FLoC failed after it was banned by GitHub, Amazon, and other big companies in a dual controversy over privacy and monopoly. The new theme API (application programming interface) can be seen as an improved version of FLoC.

The obvious difference between the topic API and FLoC is that instead of letting the system automatically label users with similar interests, Google itself sets a certain number of topics, currently 300. When a user uses the browser, Google categorizes the websites users visit based on these 300 topics. Specifically, according to the user’s browsing history in the past three weeks, the Chrome browser determines a list of five topics that users are most interested in, and then shares this information with advertisers, who then provide users with advertisements corresponding to the topics.

Goodbye FLoC, hello Topics: Google unveils new alternative to cookies |  Marketing | Campaign Asia

Google says they may expand the number of topics as the event progresses. But these topics will not include any sensitive categories such as gender and race. In addition, Google noted that the project will provide users with greater control and transparency. Users can view and delete the topic list themselves, or turn off the topic feature entirely.

“The themes are designed based on our experience from early FLoC trials,” Ben Galbraith, head of Google’s privacy sandbox, said in a news release, noting that Google has spoken to multiple parties to gather insights into the issue. Feedback on a new proposal. “It remains to be seen whether other browser vendors are interested in adding theming APIs. Since they’ve been lukewarm to FLoC so quickly, I’m a little skeptical that they’ll be willing to adopt theming APIs.”

Google Ads Consultant - Claire Jarrett - Google Ads Trainer & coach

Google plans to start trialling the Theming API by the end of this quarter. To keep things running smoothly, Google also released a technical explainer that digs deeper into the details of the proposal.