Google to change how Chrome users are tracked

If you use Chrome to browse the web, tracking Cookies are about to become obsolete. Google has come up with (what they say is) a less invasive way for advertisers to target users. The system is called Topics, and Google describes it as interest-based advertising that gives users more control over what data is shared about them and how it is shared. 

Read on to learn more about Topics and how it will work. First, let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of tracking cookies for comparison.

How tracking Cookies work

Online cookies come in various flavors, and many are vital for a convenient browsing experience. For example, authentication cookies remember your different online accounts, so you don’t have to log in each time you visit a particular website. The cookies that concern users most are third-party cookies. These are the types of cookies built into websites with banner advertisements. These banner advertisements can leave a cookie in the user’s browser and track the other sites the user is visiting to target the user with ads more relevant to their interests. Advertisers can even use this information to build a tailored user profile. Good for advertisers, creepy for users. This has been addressed somewhat through various regulations, such as GDPR, which require websites to get informed consent from users before tracking them, but it’s not a perfect system. That brings us to Topics. 

How Topics works

With Topics, advertisers will no longer be able to track your entire browsing history. Instead, the Chrome browser feature will act as an intermediary between users and advertisers. The Topics API will determine a handful of general topics you’re interested in, such as sports or travel, based on your recent browsing history. When you visit a site that participates in Topics, your browser will reveal one of your topics of interest to the site and its advertising partner, and they will tailor the targeted ads accordingly based on this information. The advertising partner will have no idea who you are, only the interests that Topics shares with it. You also have control over what is shared if you want to. You can remove specific topics from your Chrome browser, or you can choose to opt out of the feature entirely.

Topics is part of Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative, first announced back in 2019 but only starting to roll out now after making some changes to its initial plans following privacy concerns raised by various government regulators in the UK and EU. In their initial announcement, Google explained their aim to balance user privacy without jeopardizing how publishers make a living. This is in contrast to browsers like Mozilla and Apple which started blocking third-party cookies in their browsers in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Chrome users will have to wait until at least the end of 2023 for the same privilege, as Topics is still only in the testing stages of development.

Wrap up

While there’s still a ways to go before Topics is rolled out, it will be interesting to see how the API develops and whether or not Google’s eventual Cookie ban will be pushed back even further. 

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