FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts and was initially introduced to take over from website cookies. Whilst an online cookie would target people with adverts based on their browsing history and follow them around the web, from site to site, the introduction of FLoC meant that instead of personalised ads, individual users would be added to groups that would be advertised to based on their browsing history. The plan has come in for criticism for merely paying lip service to privacy concerns and being a somewhat rushed solution to a very complicated issue.
In a recent announcement, Google stated that after community feedback, FLoC would be replaced by Topics. Whilst on the surface Topics seem to be similar in implementation as FLoC, users will be added to one of 300 topics based on your browsing history, Auto & Vehicles or Travel for example.
The difference is that topics will only be stored for 3 weeks before they are deleted. It will also be device-based and no information will be carried from external servers. Upon visiting a participating site, Topics will select three topics based on your browsing history in the previous 3 weeks and show you relevant adverts.
Another feature is the ability for users to delete Topics that they have been added to if they so wish, giving the user more control over the ads they are shown. Google claims ‘topics are thoughtfully curated to exclude sensitive categories, such as gender or race.’
However, for some this does not go far enough, stating that it is not up to Google to decide what is and isn’t sensitive information.
With the introduction of Topics not expected until 2023 there could still be amendments to how it works.
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