Google Privacy Sandbox is proposing a new interest-based system for advertising after FLoC to meet its pledge of removing cookies by 2023.
Back in March last year, Google replaced third-party cookies with the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), a system of tracking people’s interests based on a “cohort” of subjects or a group of people that share similar interests.
However, the system has been criticized for posing a privacy risk because it allows advertisers to build an identity of users through tools such as fingerprinting, exposing information like user demographic that can potentially lead to discriminatory targeted ads. Because of these weak spots in the system, internet browsers like Brave and Vivaldi have refused to adopt FLoC.
Now, to fulfill its promise to replace third-party cookie tracking in Chrome by 2023, Google is proposing a system for interest-based advertising called Topics API. With this system, browsers would store up to five user interests per week based on web activity, like “Fitness” or “Travel & Transportation,” for three weeks before deleting them.
Google’s advertising taxonomy currently lists about 350 topics, and it plans on adding anywhere up to a few thousand in the future; it’s important to note that none of these Topics will include categories on sensitive issues like race or gender.
In addition, Google will allow users browsing the web on Chrome to access tools that will let them view and delete topics and even turn off the feature altogether.
According to Google, interest categories will be picked up “entirely on your device” and don’t involve “any external servers, including Google servers.” Upon visiting a website, Topics will show the site and its advertising partners three interests, consisting of one topic from the past three weeks.
Google’s Privacy Sandbox had previously experimented with the use of topics to provide advertisers with a list of user interests when it proposed its Private Interest Including Noise (PIGIN) in 2019.
The system was met with distrust because it could still allow trackers access to a wealth of private user information to build user profiles. As a result, Google is currently testing FLEDGE, a newer version of PIGIN, on Chrome and Chrome Canary.
Google has not offered an exact date for launching a developer trial for Topics in Chrome.
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