Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), Google’s internet-based targeting proposal, is no more. In its place is a new user-profiling initiative called Topics API.
The idea here is that your browser will determine your interests as you navigate the web, topics like “Travel” or “Fitness.” Topics will store browsing data over the last three weeks, and anything older will be deleted.
Google says it is limiting the number of topics to 300 but may extend the list over time.
So, how does it work? When you land on a participating website (that is, a site that supports Topics API for ad purposes), your browser will select three topics, one from each week. It will then share these topics with the site and its advertising partners.
The goal of this new system is to create a more private way of determining which ad to show users. Users will also be able to review and remove topics from their lists, giving them far greater visibility and control of how they are being tracked than ever before.
But with this enhanced privacy comes a caveat. Compared to FLoC, Topics appears to be more general, giving websites and advertisers fuzzier data about individual users.
One marketer told Search Engine Land, “Google’s current interest list [of topics] doesn’t offer the level of nuance most marketers need to target people who’d actually want to see their ads.”
When FLoC was announced as the solution to unsafe third-party cookies, it raised some privacy concerns regardless – precisely for the specificity of data it was projected to share with advertisers.
Here’s how FLoC would have worked:
A FLoC-enabled browser would collect information about the user’s browsing habits and use that data to assign the user to a “cohort” or group. Users with similar browsing behaviors would be lumped together in the same cohort.
Each user’s browser would share a cohort ID, indicating the cohort they belong to, with participating websites and advertisers.
The problem with that, again, is it comes across still pretty specific. Moving on from shadowy, disreputable third-party cookies, FLoC appears to be just another way to surveil people’s browsing histories, only this time it’s wrapped up in a nice Privacy Sandbox bow.
Or at least, that’s what many privacy-conscious communities believed.
Enter now Topics, which, sacrificing nuanced, precise targeting, limits advertisers to fuzzy details and general information, thus giving them less control over who sees their ads.
However, the majority agree that Topics is a step up from FLoC. From a broader perspective, it’s more privacy-friendly and provides more transparency. It’s a step towards a safer, healthier web that benefits everyone.
As for marketers? They just have to get more creative with their targeting initiatives.
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