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Google’s Answer To P3PC: Goodbye FLoC, Hello Topics API

June 16, 2022

Third-party cookies are going away - advertisers, publishers, and vendors are all aware of that by now. However, the future of ad targeting is still unclear. Although many ad tech platforms and vendors are working on possible alternatives, Google Ads is still the largest platform with fingers in the “advertising pie,” so to speak. It’s already provided and discarded targeting alternatives, including FLoC. However, with serious concerns raised by browser vendors and data privacy regulators, Google needed a different approach. That’s where Topics API comes in.

In this article, we’re going to:

  • Briefly cover what the Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC, is.
  • Explain Topics API and why Google is working on this approach.

First, let’s look at FLoC to determine why Google decided on a different targeting approach.

What Was FLoC?

FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. It was Google’s first attempt to create an interest-based targeting solution to replace third-party cookies. Where cookies track users’ behavior as they browse the web, FLoC was designed to group users together based on their interests.

Unfortunately, the solution was still fundamentally flawed, so no browser or ad vendor signed on board to test this targeting solution. The point of phasing out third-party cookies is to protect users and their data while preventing them from being targeted by intrusive ads.

With FLoC, users would remain anonymous. However, they’d still be grouped with others who have “similar interests,” including sensitive categories such as sexuality, race, and gender. Ads could still target users based on interests and browsing behaviors they want to remain private. In essence, the primary data privacy issue would remain.

Other flaws include a lack of clarity and transparency, serious security risks, and irrelevant targeting. In many ways, FLoC was simply third-party cookies with a little more anonymity.

What is Topics API?

In many ways, Topics API is still a lot like FLoC. In fact, Google even confirmed that the experiments with and feedback regarding FLoC inspired this new approach. However, Topics API is more intelligent than Cohorts and is considered more privacy-friendly. For example, it won’t use sensitive categories for targeting, and users will also be able to decide their interests.

Source: Google Blog

Another point in the solution’s favor is that user data won’t be stored for longer than three weeks. Additionally, data won’t be stored on any external servers, including Google’s own. In essence, Topics API was designed to be a potential compromise between user data privacy and personalized ad targeting.

According to the timeline on Privacy Sandbox, the origin trials for Topics API began in April 2022 alongside FLEDGE API (Google’s alternative to remarketing targeting). Testing will continue through 2022 and is scheduled to end at the start of Q4. However, it’s likely that the timeline might be extended depending on the performance of Topics API and whether data privacy regulators approve the solution.

How Will Topics API Work?

It’s important to note that Topics API will only work if your browser supports the solution. For example, if other browser vendors don’t accept Google’s solution, it might be limited to Chrome only. However, the search engine giant is working diligently to create a widely accepted targeting solution.

Every week, users will be assigned a series of interests based on the sites they’ve visited. There are already 350 interest categories curated by Google, including topics like Travel, Literature, Rock Music, Movies, and more. Once your interests have been “assigned,” Topics API will randomly select a category to share with websites you visit so that they can show you personalized advertisements.

If you don’t want your online behavior to be monitored at all, you can opt-out of Topics API. You can also add or remove your own interest categories in the Chrome browser. In the end, the goal is to give advertisers the ability to put personalized ads in front of users without being intrusive or compromising their privacy.

Conclusion: Is Topics API The Future For Advertisers And Publishers?

Is Topics API the future of targeting? It’s hard to say. Any targeting methods Google designs have to be approved by various regulatory bodies to ensure that user data remains protected. However, users will need to share at least some of their information to receive relevant ads for any targeting solution to work. Similarly, advertisers, ad vendors, and search engines like Google must accept that data will be limited and that sharing will be voluntary.

For the time being, while regulators and search engines explore the technological way forward, advertisers and publishers need to protect their revenue. There are safe, user-friendly targeting options available, and more are being developed by enterprising and innovative ad tech companies and ad vendors. Now is the time to find opportunities and future-proof your income.

is the Director of Catalog & Traffic at Softonic.
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