Google Drops FloC For Topics In Cookie Replacement Move

New privacy sandbox change. Google swaps system, as part of its efforts to replace cookies used by Chrome browser for online advertising

Google has changed course and dropped the system known as FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) it is building to replace advertising cookies in the Chrome browser.

Floc sought to disguise users’ individual identities by assigning them to a group, or flock, with similar browsing histories.

But it faced resistance from both privacy advocates and advertisers, it has decided to swap to a different system.

Topics change

Now Google has announced in a blog post that as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative to improve web privacy for users, it will replace with Topics, a similar system that will also group users in topic clusters.

“With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like ‘Fitness’ or ‘Travel & Transportation,’ that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history,” wrote Google’s Privacy Sandbox director Vinay Goel.

“Topics are kept for only three weeks and old topics are deleted,” said Goel. “Topics are selected entirely on your device without involving any external servers, including Google servers.”

“When you visit a participating site, Topics picks just three topics, one topic from each of the past three weeks, to share with the site and its advertising partners,” said Goel.

“Topics enables browsers to give you meaningful transparency and control over this data, and in Chrome, we’re building user controls that let you see the topics, remove any you don’t like or disable the feature completely,” said Goel.

Goel said Topics will not share race, gender or other sensitive interests.

Users will also have the ability to remove interests they did not like – or they can disable the feature altogether.

Privacy Sandbox

Google had unveiled its proposals as far back as May 2019, in response to what it said was users wanting more privacy when they are browsing the web, including not being tracked across websites.

Collectively, Google’s changes are called the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project, and will disable third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine.

Google will instead replace these tracking cookies with a new set of tools for targetted advertising and other functionality that the search engine giant says will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent.

The CMA in January 2021 opened an investigation into Google’s proposals to remove these third party cookies, and then in June last year, Google agreed to the CMA’s oversight of the process, after complaints from unhappy advertisers.

The CMA thus took up the role in the design and development of Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals to ensure they do not impede competition in digital advertising.

And Google agreed to not implement its plan without the CMA’s sign-off, and would apply the approved plan around the world.

Last November Google made fresh concessions to restrict its use of data from its Chrome browser, in order to address CMA concerns about its efforts to ban third-party cookies that advertisers use to track consumers.

“We recently worked with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to offer revised commitments to ensure our proposals are developed in a way that works for the entire ecosystem,” said Goel this week.

Google’s announcement comes during Data Privacy Week, an international initiative that aims to empower individuals and encourage businesses to respect user privacy, safeguard data and enable trust.