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2nd February 2022

Google unveils new alternative to cookies

The new approach will be used to maintain privacy while showing relevant ads which is a win-win for both advertisers and consumers.

Google have unveiled a new targeting approach to combat the abolishment of third-party cookies by replacing Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) with Topics API, a new system for interest-based advertising.

The new approach will be used to maintain privacy while showing relevant ads which is a win-win for both advertisers and consumers. The approach will enable advertisers to buy ads based on user’s browsing interests without having to rely on tracking cookies, which Google want to block in its Chrome web browser by the end of 2023.

Google’s initial solution, FLoC, aimed to constantly group people into big baskets designed by algorithms based on websites users visited in the last week. Advertisers could show ads to a preferred basket but would not know the individuals in it or what interest they shared. Advertisers felt this was less effective, which would allow Google to unveil a new system, ‘Topics’.

Topics allows a web browser to determine several interests based on a user’s browsing history. Topics will assign three to five possible topics of interest every three weeks, based on their browsing history. The API will then report three of those topics to participating sites and decide whether to show that individual an ad.

Google says Topics won’t include any “sensitive categories” like race, sexual orientation, religion or gender. There are currently 350 topics, however, this number is expected to grow to hundreds or even the low thousands. Sites can opt-out of being assigned a topic and users will be able to see the topics they’re assigned to.

How it works?

Topics works by analysing your browsing history to work out the things you’re interested in. If you’re specifically interested in cars, Topics will show you adverts for cars on the websites that you visit. When identifying you’re interested in cars, each website that uses Google’s Topics API will be assigned an overall category. For instance, a website relating to skiing may fall into the “sports” category; a newspaper article would likely to be assigned to the local news category.

As you move around the web, Chrome will record the categories you visit the most. After each week, your five most popular categories will be gathered up. Google says this process is done on your device and not on its servers. A sixth random topic will be added to add some noise in the system. These six categories are then shared with the websites you visit and are used to target the ads you see. The data is deleted after three weeks.

Google says people will be given more control over the interest areas that are assigned to them and can change settings, block topics, and opt-out in Chrome.

Ultimately, Topics will help Google stay at the top of the advertising industry. Although we find that Topics may differ from FLoC, its overall purpose remains the same: to maintain Google’s control over the ads we see.

Check out our article on getting to grips with your cookie policies.

For an informal chat about how we can help you with your digital advertising challenges, contact kim.mclellan@hunterlodge.co.uk


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