Google Ends FLoC, Introduces New Replacement For Cookies
What are Cookies & Their Use?
Cookies have been an integral part of the advertising and digital marketing world for over a decade. It wouldn’t be wrong to state that cookies have played an instrumental role in shaping how websites can create a far more personalized experience for each visitor based on their behavior on the site.
However, despite being pivotal in elevating user experiences online, there has long been a debate over the ethics of cookies. Whether it’s first-party cookies, third-party cookies, tracking cookies, or session cookies, each one relies on monitoring how the user behaves on a website with pinpoint accuracy. Some people have labeled such a level of accuracy akin to surveillance.
Google & Its Cookie Problem
There has also been the question of cookies failing to perform their functions as a website claims, with some cookies far exceeding the purposes stated when gaining the users’ consent. These claims have come to the fore ever since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was implemented in 2018. Issues of privacy and the responsibility of websites to ensure a user’s right to privacy is not abused meant that some of the biggest names in the tech world had to rethink how they go about creating a personalized experience for their users online.
Google Introduces Federated Learning Cohorts (FLoCs)
Google’s initiative was to replace cookies altogether. Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) would help it cater to its users by categorizing all users into groups based on their shared interests online. However, Google has now decided to scrap the project altogether for a new approach known as Topics. While the exact reason why Google has put the entire FLoC project on the shelf remains unclear, many industry experts believe it has to do with Google shifting away from individualized data collection methods of any kind.
On the other hand, Google’s Privacy Sandbox lead Ben Galbraith said that the FloC trials were instrumental in helping Google figure out how to incorporate Topics within its ecosystem. The FLoC trials also helped them identify the pros and cons of their proposed FLoC. The combination of trial participants’ insights and headways in Google’s own methodology paved the way for Topics API.
Google Is Now Actively Testing Topics
Speaking to TechCrunch, Ben Galbraith stated, “And this resulted in a bunch of great feedback from the community, as I’m sure you know. As such, Topics replaces our FLoC proposal and I want to emphasize that this whole process of sharing a proposal, doing a trial, gathering feedback, and then iterating on the designs — this is the whole open development process that we wanted for the Sandbox and really shows the process working as intended.”
He further stated, “The design of topics was informed by our learnings from the earlier FLoC trials.”
What is “Topics” by Google, really?
The core idea behind Topics is that it’ll learn about your interests based on your overall internet browsing patterns.
- It’ll only keep data for the past three weeks of any user’s browsing history;
- Google plans to restrict the number of topics it can triangulate on any user at around 300.
Instead of categorizing users as was the methodology in FLoC, Topics will categorize the websites a user visits instead. Google plans on putting a machine learning algorithm into place to ensure each website is adequately categorized based on the name of the domain and the content within it.
How does “Topics” impact Websites that depend on Ad revenue?
The Topics API will be of particular interest to those that wish to pursue interest-based targeted advertising. A site will be able to show users ads based on the topics they’ve been interested in the past three weeks. As far as users are concerned, they’ll have a more significant amount of control over what ads they see since they’ll be able to remove topics from their interests or disable the entire Topics API entirely during their browsing sessions.
Google expects Topics API trials to begin by the end of Q1 of 2022.
What Next For Cookies?
This is just another reminder for businesses of all sizes that the days of unhindered access to user data based on cookies are well and truly over. Moreover, users are now more educated about their data rights than ever before.
Hence, it is in every organization’s best interest to ensure it remains compliant with data protection laws globally. The best and by far the most effective way to achieve that is via automation.
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