After the launch of Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts in March 2021, an important part of its Privacy Sandbox project, it has now been announced that FLoC has been cancelled.

The aim of FLoC was to analyse consumers’ browsing behaviour and use this data to group consumers into cohorts of like-minded users. These groups are planned to be specific enough for advertisers to use them to show relevant ads, all whilst remaining in keeping with privacy concerns – no browsing history is shared with Google, and consumers can’t be personally identified by marketers.

In it’s blog post, Google said: “Advertising is essential to keeping the web open for everyone, but the web ecosystem is at risk if privacy practices do not keep up with changing expectations. ​People want assurances that their identity and information are safe as they browse the web. 

“That’s why Chrome introduced the Privacy Sandbox and, today, shared progress on their path to eliminate third-party cookies by replacing them with viable privacy-first alternatives, developed alongside ecosystem partners, that will help publishers and advertisers succeed while also protecting people’s privacy as they move across the web.”

Google product director Vinay Goel told Reuters: “…in tests last year, some advertisers found FLoC less effective than cookies for choosing users to target and the system carried the risk of exposing an individual’s browsing history.”

So, Google has now announced its second attempt at tackling privacy issues for advertisers: Topics.

The new system groups each user in up to 15 baskets out of about 350 human-designed choices such as “fitness” and “travel” based on three weeks of browsing. Advertisers will see up to three baskets per user as they decide whether to show that individual an ad.

It has been said that browsing is tracked only on websites that enable Topics, and users can dissociate from a topic or turn off the technology altogether and testing is said to be beginning within the next few months.

It will be interesting to see how advertisers and consumers respond to the new solution. Stay up to date by signing up to the Pick ‘n’ Mix newsletter.