Last year, Google announced its new FLoC technology with which the company planned to phase out web browser cookies. However, the technology presented issues with privacy and raised a lot of concerns among users and developers. Google today announced that it is already ditching its FLoC technology and the company plans to roll out a new system called Topics API as a new solution.
Topics API figures out five interest topics every week based on your browsing history, such as "Fitness" or "Travel & Transportation". These interest topics stay on your device for three weeks and then get deleted. Google says these categories "are selected entirely on your device" and don’t involve "any external servers, including Google servers." When you will visit a website when the Topics API comes into effect, you'll see ads based on just three of your interests consisting of "one topic from each of the past three weeks."
The Topics API significantly reduces the amount of cross-site identifiable information. The coarseness of the topics makes each topic a very weak signal; different sites receiving different topics further dilutes its utility for fingerprinting.
Google has currently listed about 350 topics on its Github page. The company plans to add anywhere from "a few hundred" to "a few thousand" eventually. Google will not include any "sensitive category" like race or gender. And if you use Google Chrome, Google will let you add and remove these categories yourself.
Google is planning to launch a 'Developer Trial' of Topics API by the end of Q1 2022. This will allow websites and the ads industry to test the Topics API before it comes into effect. The company wants to get rid of third-party cookies in Chrome by 2023. The currently used cookie tracking tech is old and needs a replacement.
The final design of the user controls and the other various technical aspects of how Topics works will be decided based on your feedback and what we learn in the trial.
Topics API is the new solution from Google to solve this problem. Even though it isn't clear how the Topics API compares to the third-party cookies, Google clearly wants a new solution after its FLoC technology failed. The company's FLoC technology involved putting "large groups of people with similar browsing patterns" into a "cohort" which was created by on-device machine learning algorithms that analyzed web history and user behavior.
However, it proposed privacy concerns and companies like WordPress and Amazon turned it off, while no other big tech company adopted the solution. With Topics API, Google plans to correct its mistakes, though it remains to be seen how the web community reacts to it.