Google launches Topics tests, under fire from critics

On March 31, 2022, Google launched the tests of its new targeting technique for online advertising, Topics and its “themes”, through three APIs (Topics, Fledge, and Attribution reporting) in Chrome Canary. Tests under the close supervision of the European competition authorities.

The end of third-party cookies on Chrome is one of the many sticking plasters that tirelessly stick to Google’s coattails, and confronts the Internet giant with its contradictions on the viability of its economic model.

What does the end of third-party cookies on Chrome hide?

At the beginning of 2020, Google announced that from 2022, Chrome would no longer accept any non-essential third-party cookies. The net giant claims that the measure was decided to protect the privacy of users. The argument has something to smile about, since the overwhelming majority of Google’s revenues come from online advertising, in particular targeted, thanks to the creation of advertising profiles, often built by the use of these third-party cookies.

The Internet giant’s decision is more likely to be explained by, on the one hand, the development of GDPR-type regulations, which give users control over the installation of tracking cookies (limiting their effectiveness), and , on the other hand, the desire to impose a new targeting standard, created by Google and allowing it to crush its competitors even further in the online advertising market.

Double challenge to Google’s choices: on the privacy side and on the competition side

Since this announcement, challenges to Google’s various proposals to replace third-party cookies in targeted advertising have targeted one or other of these two fields: that of privacy protection, that of the distortion of the competetion.

When this decision was announced, some analysts believed that the profiles created by Google via its products (YouTube, Gmail, Android, Maps, Chrome, Analytics, etc.) were enough for the Internet giant to maintain its dominant position in the advertising market. targeted.

The bitter failure of FLoC

If this parameter probably remains relevant, the sequel has proven that, no, Google could not be satisfied with these profiles, and really needed to replace advertising cookies with a targeting technology, less intrusive, more respectful of privacy. , but continuing to guarantee it a central position in the market.

The net giant first pulled out of its hat, in early 2021, FLoC, a targeting “by cohort”, which has been hacked to pieces by both privacy advocates and competition authorities. The layout has barely passed the preliminary testing stage. Google has therefore postponed the end of advertising cookies on Chrome to 2023 (at the earliest).

Topics, Google’s GDPR-compliant targeting device, enters testing phase

At the beginning of 2022, Google therefore presented its new system, called Topics, which aims to attribute to Internet users several “themes” (centers of interest or tastes), depending on their navigation, but leaving them full control over the parameters and the use of these themes by advertising agencies, while resetting them every three weeks.

The device seems in the nails of the GDPR. Google therefore announced, on March 31, 2022, the test launch of the three APIs linked to this project: Topics, which associates themes with a user; Feldge, which coordinates the auctioning of advertising space based on these themes; and finally Attribution reporting, which measures when a click or ad view led to “ a conversion“.

Europe: key market and thorn in the side of Google

For this test phase, Google has cut the world into two parts. Users from the European Economic Area (27 Member States of the European Union, plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein), Switzerland and the United Kingdom will have to give their consent before being included in the tests (opt-in) . In the rest of the world, Google will operate on an opt-out principle, and users will be included in the test by default, and can simply request to be removed.

This separation clearly shows that Europe is well the problematic market for Google: impossible to do without it financially, but it requires walking on eggshells, between regulations protecting privacy (the GDPR and its British equivalent), the extreme vigilance of the competition authorities, already very critical of the protocol used by Google (the British Competition and Markets Authority as the European Commission are investigating the end of third-party cookies on Chrome), and even a complaint from press publishers, who derive an essential part of their online revenue from targeted advertising, and who fear that the end of third-party cookies on Chrome will deprive them of a substantial part of their income.

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