With the end of third-party cookies on the horizon, advertisers and Internet gatekeepers are struggling to find better ways to deliver relevant ads to users. Google launched its Privacy Sandbox in 2019 to look for suitable alternatives, announcing FLoC (or Federated Learning of Cohorts) last year. The FLoC rollout plan was delayed and the Privacy Sandbox faced regulatory scrutiny in the UK and US. Today, the company announced that it is testing a new approach called Topics API, which will replace FLoC.
The Topics API relies on the Chrome Browser to determine a list of the top five topics a user is interested in, based on their browsing history. It will determine what the topics are by comparing popular sites (that you visit) against a list of around 350 topics pulled from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Google’s own data. Then, when partner publishers need to know what topics a viewer is on, they can use the topics API to ping the browser for that data and serve relevant ads based on that.
Let’s say, for example, that you visited a lot of websites to go hiking or exercise. Chrome will count your top interests for that particular week and share them with participating publishers, who will be able to run ads for, say, recreational or camping supplies. Topics will select an area of interest from each of the past three weeks to share with each site and its advertising partners. Google says threads are “only kept for three weeks and old threads are deleted”. Data and processing takes place on your device “without involving external servers, including Google servers”.
There will also be options in Chrome for users to see topics assigned to you, remove the ones you don’t like, or disable the feature altogether. At this time, because Google has just announced Topics and hasn’t started user testing, it hasn’t shared whether Topics will be turned on or off for users.
The list of topics is predefined and Google says it “will not include potentially sensitive categories such as gender or race”. This should theoretically prevent unwanted browsing history from counting and appearing in your interests.
Google is targeting the end of the first quarter of this year to launch its test, and after publishing the explainer on how it expects to use the Topic API today, it will accept feedback from partners, interest groups and regulatory authorities. Based on that, the company can tweak the Topic API before its first test, and if all goes well, it could roll out the feature by the third quarter of the year.
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