Floced: will topics become an issue for Google in 2024?

What about Google Topics and data protection?

In January 2024, Google will begin blocking third-party cookies for a small number of Chrome browser users and introducing the so-called Topics. This will be gradually extended to all Chrome users by Q3/2024.

Lettering for your security and our curiosity
Etienne Girardet: https://unsplash.com/photos/CxTCcjUo2hM/

Almost four years after Firefox and Safari, Chrome is now also banning third-party cookies. But for completely different reasons. Google doesn’t think cookies are stupid, but rather that others - including browser manufacturers and legislators - think cookies are stupid.

It has obviously taken four years to find an alternative to cookies. It would have been desirable if data protection had played a role in this. However, it was probably mainly about future-proofing the advertising business and the associated main source of income (Google’s advertising revenue since 2001).

The first project, called FloC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), is known to have fallen flat on its face and was widely criticised. ¹ ² ³

It was more than obvious that data protection played no role here. Once a term is worn out, you simply rename the whole thing and that’s how the Topics were born. Apparently, the criticism was also taken seriously:

“The design of topics was informed by our learnings from the earlier FLoC trials,” Google’s Privacy Sandbox lead Ben Galbraith said in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement. […] Source Techcrunch

According to the information provided, there are changes in the way it works. It seems to be important to Google that the cohorts are now called interest groups and are no longer so granular. There are indications that the company wants to appease data protectionists and move away from actual personalised advertising towards semantic targeting.

However, doubts may be justified. As with FloC, the default setting still appears to be an opt-out variant. Since topics can by no means be regarded as necessary, but are stored on the user’s end device, a violation is likely from the point of view of the ePrivacy Regulation.

It is also questionable to what extent anonymous interest groups exist if the largest provider of personalised advertising is also the provider of the most widely used browser Google Chrome (Statistics browser worldwide) - including the login function - and the most widely used tracking software Google Analytics. This is because de-anonymisation should be quite possible with these features - if one assumes that Google would have to do it at all.

It is and remains a battle against windmills. As long as the laws remain toothless paper tigers and the big companies create facts while European start-ups are drowning in regulatory madness, real alternatives are difficult to establish.

It is up to each individual, even if only for themselves, to use Google as a web search, to use Chrome as a browser or to use Google Analytics on their website.

In any case, we currently use DuckDuckGo, Firefox and lalalytics :rocket: