With Topics, Google is trying a new option for “post-cookie” targeted advertising

Definitively burying FLoC, its advertising targeting by cohorts, Google pulls a new project out of its sleeve to develop a form of targeted advertising, but without advertising cookies: called Topics, it is a system of “Themes”, defined by the browsing habits of an Internet user, but over which he would have control. The project seems a priori in the nails of the GDPR. Deployment expected by the end of 2022.

Same player shoots again : Google has just unsheathed a new possible alternative to advertising cookies, after the bitter failure of FLoCs.

Advertising, at the heart of Google’s business model

Google has indeed announced in 2020 the end of third-party advertising cookies on Chrome by 2023. But advertising revenues remain the alpha and omega of Google’s business model, they still represent 80% of its revenues in 2021, for net income of $76 billion (up 89%).

The Internet giant is therefore looking for a new method to continue to target advertising to its users, without creating unique advertising profiles supported by these cookies. In 2021, he proposed targeting “by cohorts”called FLoC, which integrated Internet users into groups of consumers with similar tastes.

FLoC unceremoniously buried

Browsers, search engines, hosts fired a red ball on the project, even developing tools to block this technology, also criticized by the European Commission and various competition control bodies.

Clearly, Google has decided to throw in the towel on FLoC. The net giant has indeed just presented a new device, without mentioning in the least the existence of FLoC, which should end up in the dustbin of tech oblivion without regret.

Topics, an API that combines “themes” to Internet users

This new targeting technology is based on an API, called Topics, and integrated into Chrome’s Privacy Sandbox, the environment dedicated to privacy and targeting in which Google tests alternatives to cookies.

The principle is simple: each user profile is associated with “themes” (from one to three), defined by the last three weeks of browsing, and over which the Internet user would (partly) have control.

In its presentation of the process, Google outlines ideas for themes, such as “Automotive”, “Books”, “Rock music”, “Football”, “Animated films”…Of course, as Google points out, “ themes are carefully selected to exclude potentially sensitive categories, such as gender or ethnicity “.

Storage limited to the user’s device

These themes, selected by Google’s algorithms, will be ” representative of the main areas of user interest for a given week »and deleted after three weeks, to be replaced by others.

To solve the quadrature of privacy and advertising personalization, Google had the idea of ​​storing these themes exclusively on users’ devices, and never on external servers (including those of Google), but to make them dialogue, via the Topics API, with partner sites and advertisers, who will therefore be able to offer targeted advertising based on these centers of interest.

Put the user back at the center of the targeting process

Google says users will be able to view shared themes, delete ones they don’t like, and even, according to Vinay Goel, product manager for the Privacy Sandbox, ” disable the feature entirely “. On this point, let’s trust Google: deleting Topics may require about fifteen windows and confirmation requests…

However, on paper, Topics seems to respect the GDPR and the principles of respect for privacy. Google no longer stores any personal data, the processing takes place directly on the Internet user’s devices, which keeps control of the temporary and deletable themes.

What is Google hiding from us?

In summary, the idea is to let the algorithms build a coarse profile of the Internet user, to let the latter accept it or not, and to target advertisements according to this profile. Going from an opaque model, where no one knows how advertising profiles are made, to an open, readable and controllable model?

The process does not really resemble the habits of Google. But the net giant may have understood that the tide had turned and that the time had come to rethink its model. Maybe he also has enough data via Chrome, Google.com or YouTube to build accurate profiles of Google users without the need to add cookies.

Anyway, experiments will begin in the coming weeks. If all goes well, Topics should be live and rolling out in late 2022.

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