FLoC or the Federated Learning of Cohorts concept has been scrapped. Google could not deal with the push back from privacy advocates on this ill-conceived replacement for web browser cookies as it created more security and privacy issues than cookies currently have.
So, Google has come up with something new, Google Topics (https://blog.google/products/chrome/get-know-new-topics-api-privacy-sandbox).
The short version, websites will be put into “groups” such as ‘travel and leisure’ or ‘social media’. When you visit a website, your “Google Topics” enabled web browser will track that you visited say, Expedia, and notate that you visited a website part of the ‘travel and leisure’ group.
Brave Browser addressed these changes in a very well written blog post that I recommend everyone read: https://brave.com/web-standards-at-brave/7-googles-topics-api
That data that you have an ‘interest’ in ‘travel and leisure’ will be stored on your computer or phone or whatever device you use. Websites that utilize the ‘Google Topics’ API will be able to collect from your web browser that you have an ‘interest’ in a ‘group’ and as such, will then be able to tailor ads presented to you from that data.
Google attempts to quell concerns for privacy by stating that they will be grouping certain websites into a group called ‘sensitive’ and that data in that group will not be available through the ‘Google Topics API’.
This differs from FLoC in that there isn’t a direct ID created for you that Google will track and that does provide you some privacy protection. However, this is still tracking your browsing habits and making that data accessible to any website that accesses the Google Topics API.
Yes, the data is being stored on your computer and Google ‘promises’ that you will have full control over that data.
So, Google will decide which websites you visit are considered ‘sensitive’ and promises that you will have full control over that data? Really?
How does Google address a website that you consider sensitive and they don’t? Will they allow you to add websites to the ‘sensitive’ group? In doing so, how does that preserve your privacy when online? You have still had to provide browsing data to Google.
What does it mean when Google says you will have full control over your data? Does that mean I can exert my full control and not have my data harvested in the first place?
Given how Google operates and that their business model is based on you being the product, I would say a strong no.
Put simply, anything that is tracking your Internet usage, whether that tracking is on a server or your computer and/or other device is bad. It creates a ‘fingerprint’ of your usage, regardless of how long that data is retained, how that data is used and/or classified.
Now yes, Google Topics would be a more efficient replacement for website cookies but again, that’s not the point. People don’t want to be tracked or spied upon and they are tired of the constant stream of ads that poison their online experience. That’s why many browsers have controls to stop cookies in the first place.
Take a hint Google. If people don’t want cookies to track them, that means they don’t want to be tracked. They don’t want an alternative to cookies or another clever tracking system. Give it a rest and find a better business model. We are not interested in being your product.
Until next time!