Google announced on Monday the arrival of Topics, a tracking system replacement for its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) approach. Google put the original proposal on hold after it drew industry criticism for being open to questionable workarounds and raising privacy red flags.
What’s The Difference Between Topics And FLoC?
Topics is a pared-back version of the FLoC approach: It maintains the core idea of FLoC’s interest groups by assigning interests (Topics), such as “beauty & fitness,” to users based on their browsing histories. Those inferred interests are then shared — sparingly — with websites (and their partners) to enable ad targeting.
There’s one big deviation from FLoC, however: While the former used machine learning and AI to construct cohorts, the Topics approach is simpler and inherently more transparent. Google says the goal is to find a third party that will shape its taxonomy of which sites correlate with which Topics. When a user visits a website, Google will only share three interests (Topics) with that website, which reduces the risk of sites using FLoC IDs as a device identifier, and Topics are saved for three weeks.
This increased transparency has implications for users and advertisers alike. Users will be able to see what topics are associated with them and remove any they don’t want to share with websites, and they can opt out of Topics entirely. And for advertisers in regulated industries — such as financial services — the simpler, more transparent categorization makes Topics an option where FLoCs were not (opaque modeling is a no-no).
What Does This Mean For Advertisers?
From a 50,000-foot view, this changes very little. Advertisers should continue to prepare for data deprecation as the forces underpinning it continue to roll full steam ahead. From a strategic standpoint, this means shoring up your zero- and first-party data strategies; interrogating your consumer engagements to ensure they deliver meaningful value; and rethinking some traditional assumptions about the necessity of perfect “1:1 communication.” Tactically, it means auditing your current approaches to audience development, ad targeting, ad personalization, and measurement and building out a testing roadmap for alternative solutions to cookie-based ones.
To that end, think of Topics as just another tool in the toolbox of options — one controlled by Google, yes, but that’s certainly not a departure from FLoC. It’s just the next evolutionary step in the adtech/content/search/browser/web services giant’s fight to maintain its position in the face of wide-ranging headwinds.