Chrome’s “Topics” ad system is here whether you like it or not

The privacy sandbox settings.
Enlarge / The privacy sandbox settings.


Google is looking to remove the third-party web cookie, which is often used by advertisers to track users for targeted ads. Unlike other browser companies like Apple and Mozilla, which block third-party cookies, Google is one of the largest advertising companies in the world. He doesn’t want to kill the third-party cookie without first protecting his main source of income. Google seems to view user tracking as a mandatory part of internet usage, and instead of third-party cookies, it wants to build user tracking directly into its Chrome browser. Google’s name for this ad system is the “Privacy Sandbox,” and on Thursday the company released its latest tracking solution in nightly “Canary” builds of Chrome.

The latest Chromium blog post introduced the current timeline: “Starting today, developers can start testing the Topics, FLEDGE, and Attribution Reporting APIs globally in the Canary version of Chrome. We’ll be moving soon to a limited number of Chrome beta users. As soon as everything is working properly in the beta, we will make API testing available in the stable version of Chrome to expand testing to more Chrome users. “

Topics will allow Chrome to locally track your browsing history and build a list of interests, which Chrome will then share with advertisers whenever they request ad targeting. If you want a breakdown of the name of the API verified in Google’s statement, the FLEDGE API is responsible for both running an advertising action directly on your device and selecting an advertiser, then targeting users based on their behavior, such as leaving an item in a shopping cart. . The Attribution Reporting API is responsible for measuring ad clicks, impressions, and tracking purchase conversions.

On this page, you can delete all advertising interests that you don't like.
Enlarge / On this page, you can delete all advertising interests that you don’t like.


Besides setting up the first version of the system for advertisers, Thursday’s post also gives us a preview of what the user controls will look like. There is now a chrome://settings/privacySandbox page, where you can enable or disable the trial. The “browser-based ad personalization” page lets you see the topics Chrome thinks you’re interested in, and you can remove the ones you don’t.

Again, this is only for the experimental Chrome Canary browser, which no one uses as a daily driver, so it will be a while before most people see these commands. Google has early prototypes and said, “We strongly encourage developers to share their feedback publicly and with Chrome, and we’ll closely monitor progress along the way. We also welcome the role that industry associations can play in this process, facilitating collaborative industry testing to aggregate feedback themes.”

Google’s first swing at a Chrome user tracking system was called FLoC, but after many privacy advocates spoke out against the idea, Google scrapped it and went with the current solution. “Topics”. There isn’t a huge difference between the two systems, except that it seems less likely that someone could individually target a user with the Topics API. It is hard not to find both propositions extremely crude. Google argues that it’s mandatory to build user tracking and advertising into Chrome, and the company says it won’t block third-party cookies until it accomplishes this.

Google has built its empire on the back of its advertising and user tracking systems and derives 82% of its total revenue from advertisements. Many Google products are developed, launched and closed without any impact on Google results, but this is the foundation of the Google empire we are talking about. It seems existentially important that Google forces a favorable outcome, no matter what the rest of the internet says.

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