Topics API: Google’s New Targeting Proposal

Respecting the privacy of digital data is a major issue for both public policy and advertisers on the Web. That’s why Google has announced the end of third-party cookies by 2023.

To provide a solution for online advertising industry professionals to continue their business, Google proposed FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). However, this initiative did not please the experts and there was a certain amount of outcry against this proposal.

Google has therefore decided to evolve its solution. On January 25th, the American company presented Google Topics API. That’s why, in this article, we will help you to understand how this new tool works. We will take the opportunity to study the first feedbacks as well as to propose some good practices to help you preserve the efficiency of your digital strategy.

At the heart of the Privacy Sandbox
First of all, we have to put Google Topics in the context of its birth: Privacy Sandbox. The objective of this initiative is to combine the preservation of users’ privacy and the performance of web campaigns.

Concretely, the Privacy Sandbox is built around several pillars:

Preserving users’ privacy by removing third-party cookies
Providing publishers and developers with access to tools to meet their business needs
Setting new privacy standards in collaboration with industry
This is an ambitious initiative that includes the Google Topics API, but it is not limited to this new proposal related to third-party cookies. Within the Privacy Sandbox, we can mention Google Fledge, specifically designed to meet the needs of retargeting.

Before Topics, Google FLoC
Google FLoC is Google’s previous proposal to target users without using third-party cookies. This targeting was based on interests. Each week, the user was classified into cohorts based on their browsing history.

These cohorts could then be submitted to advertisements. As each user was theoretically anonymous within a cohort, the respect of personal data was guaranteed. The idea was to reconcile this anonymity with the demand of advertisers to be able to reach the right audience through relevant advertising.

If the proposal seemed interesting, some people denounced a lack of transparency for the user as well as security problems. The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) noted, for example, that fingerprinting techniques make it possible to distinguish a user’s browser from thousands of others. As a result, one browser in a cohort could be given a unique and traceable identifier.

How does Google Topics API work?
Google has developed its new proposal by taking into account the feedback from professionals: Google Topics API.

Instead of gathering users into cohorts on a weekly basis, Google Topics assigns three to five topics of interest every three weeks. Moreover, the process is carried out without involving external servers. The selection of topics and their storage is done directly on the user’s machine.

The selection is based on the browsing history of the last three weeks. Themes can be for example fitness, travel or cooking. Currently, there are 350 different themes. Of course, Google intends to enrich these categories to reach a figure of several hundred or even several thousand themes available.

Moreover, transparency is guaranteed for users, as they can consult the topics to which they are assigned. It is even possible to delete or deactivate topics according to their preferences. In addition, sensitive categories such as sexual orientation or ethnicity will of course not be categorized.

What is the reception of this new proposal?
First of all, the arrival of Google Topics is not a surprise for a majority of professionals given the rejection of the FLoC solution. Advertisers believe that encouraging efforts have been made to take into account both the privacy of Internet users and the needs of advertising and digital marketing professionals.

However, many professionals are waiting to learn more about the Google Topics API before providing a definitive opinion. However, we can already note some criticism of this new proposal. Indeed, some advertisers complain about the lack of existing topics. This can cause a problem of segmentation of Internet users and a lack of nuance in the targeting of audiences. This objection is understandable, as the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) taxonomy includes no less than 1500 audience segments.

Another problem is raised by some other industry professionals. In order to guarantee the confidentiality of Internet users and to ensure that a minimum number of members are present in each category, there is a 5% chance that a theme will be randomly sent during collection. What impact will this have on the relevance and performance of advertising campaigns?

Finally, the only browser compatible with Google Topics API is Google Chrome for the moment. Already the FLoC solution has not been adopted by Safari, Edge or Firefox. We can therefore wonder if the absence of Topics will last and if so, will it negatively impact the reach of campaigns?

How to adapt your strategy to these new issues?
Whatever Google’s proposal is adopted by the digital marketing community, you can already prepare yourself. To do so, collect first-party data without delay. This data will become increasingly valuable and relevant in the future.

Secondly, don’t forget to keep a constant watch on the developments related to the Google Topics API. The more you know about the latest trends, the more agile and efficient you will be. Google will offer a trial of Topics on Google Chrome soon. The feedback will help refine the proposal.

In any case, Google plans to make all Privacy Sandbox APIs available by Q4 2022. Therefore, the American company will necessarily accelerate the finalization of these different web solutions if it wants to meet the initial deadlines. Let’s hope that the collaboration between Google and the industry will result in the creation of relevant tools that allow everyone to protect their interests on the Internet.

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