In the last few years, Google tried out a new project for ad targeting, FLoC, in an effort to get rid of cookies. The system was supposed to group people by interests for advertising purposes, but received significant pushback from experts who believed it would exacerbate discriminatory and predatory ad targeting.
Today, the plan is dead. In its place: Topics.
The new API will track users’ interests as they surf the web, collecting data in three-week chunks. It will then categorize surfing history into 300 pre-designated “topics,” or interest areas, which do not include sensitive characteristics like race and gender. Then, when a user visits a site, three of their top five most-visited “topics” will be reflected in the ads. Users will be able to turn off specific topics in their settings.
In theory, this should provide users with a more private ad experience than cookies do. Google says it will begin beta tests of the API at the end of the quarter. In the meantime, it’s published a technical explainer of the API, part of the company’s “Privacy Sandbox” of open-source tools for developers, on GitHub.