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Google Drops FLoC, Pivots Towards Topics and FLEDGE

By Mihaela Lica Butler | February 3, 2022
Google Drops FLoC, Pivots Towards Topics and FLEDGE

Last week Google dropped FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) - a controversial technology Google planned as part of the Privacy Sandbox initiative. FLoC was supposed to give advertisers the means of targeting ads without exposing details on individual users by clustering them into groups based on their browsing activity.

But FLoC triggered powerful opposition from privacy experts. Bennett Cyphers of the Electronic Frontier Foundation insisted that FLoC was "potentially the most harmful" solution for killing the third-party cookie and a "terrible idea:" 

"FLoC is meant to be a new way to make your browser do the profiling that third-party trackers used to do themselves: in this case, boiling down your recent browsing activity into a behavioral label, and then sharing it with websites and advertisers," he wrote back in March 2021. "The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party cookies, but it will create new ones in the process. It may also exacerbate many of the worst non-privacy problems with behavioral ads, including discrimination and predatory targeting," Cyphers added. 

Google’s FLoC Is a Terrible Idea by Bennet Cyphers via Electronic Frontier Foundation

Now, instead of FLoC, Google is pushing forward the Topics targetting and FLEDGE for retargeting. 

Topics API: Interest-based Advertising (IBA)

The Topics API will analyze the users' browsing history and patterns to cluster their interests into interest-based categories to help sites serve relevant ads. For example, the initial advertising taxonomy related to real estate topics may include Real Estate, Real Estate/Lots & Land, and Real Estate/Timeshares & Vacation Properties. 

The browser collects a few of the most frequent topics associated with the websites a user visited within a week then deletes that information after three weeks. 

Google initially proposed a limited set of 350 topics on a human-curated, publicly visible list. The number was set to reduce the risk of fingerprinting. Also, Google said that Chrome would maintain a topics list that does not include sensitive categories like race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

The main advantages of the Topics API over FLoC include:

  • Topics API uses a human-readable taxonomy that allows users to recognize which topics are being sent (e.g., in UX).
  • With a topic taxonomy, browsers can offer users a way to control which topics they want to include.
  • The Topics API will have a user opt-out mechanism.

In other words, users will see the topics and remove any they do not like or disable them in Chrome Settings.

Introducing Topics | Privacy Sandbox
"Introducing Topics - the latest proposal from the Privacy Sandbox team designed to keep your personal information private online while showing you content you're interested in. Powered by the browser, Topics protects your identity by giving you the freedom to control which topics are shared or you can turn them off altogether."

Although not yet perfect, the Topics API could be a step toward improved user privacy on the web. 

FLEDGE: Remarketing and Custom Audience Use Cases

FLEDGE stands for First Locally-Executed Decision over Groups Experiment - implemented for the first time in Chromium within the TURTLEDOVE family of Privacy Sandbox proposals. FLEDGE uses interest groups to enable sites to display ads relevant to their users:

Chrome FLEDGE method.
FLEDGE enables on-device auctions by the browser to choose relevant ads from websites the user has previously visited.

Google will open FLEDGE for testing during the first half of 2022. A FLEDGE demo is already available online, and developers can already implement the API to try FLEDGE and get a clear overview of the trial's goals and what features are proposed for support.

FLEDGE and Topics are currently just experiments, and you can expect them to evolve over the course of the year. There are also chances that Google will replace them with other solutions, as happened to FLoC. So, follow the news to learn about the latest developments in time. 

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Mihaela Lica Butler is senior partner at Pamil Visions PR. She is a widely cited authority on public relations issues, with an experience of over 25 years in online PR, marketing, and SEO.She covers startups, online marketing, social media, SEO, and other topics of interest for Realty Biz News.
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