March 13, 2022

Topics instead of cohorts


Google offers a new proposal in its Privacy Sandbox initiative called ‘Topics’ which it claims will facilitate interest-based advertising long after it sunsets third-party cookies in its Chrome browser in 2023. It replaces one of the more controversial aspects of its original plan — Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which raised concerns from third parties around the potential for Google to self-preference its own ad stack. The web browser determine a number of topics that best reflect a Chrome user’s interests — like “sports” or “travel,” based on their browsing history on “participating websites” on a weekly basis. In the initial rollout of Topics experiments, there will be approximately 350 interest-based topics (a number which could swell into the thousands) based on a hybrid of the IAB’s latest content taxonomy and Google’s. The collected data is based on users’ devices. It reduces the need for user data to be transferred to external servers, including Google’s, and provides consumers with a more transparent means of seeing how their data is accessed. Google has been at pains to highlight how Topics offers Chrome users control and transparency as to how it accesses user data without potentially sensitive categories such as gender, race, or sexual orientation. The company also noting that it would soon share details about its plans for FLEDGE — a means of facilitating the conduct of an ad auction inside a browser, and not on a third-party server — as well as new measurement proposals with developers in the coming weeks.

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