How Google Chrome will use ‘Topics’ to track you for ads


Google’s short experiment with Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) has come to an end. The replacement is simply called “subjects.” Let’s see how Google will use this to track your browsing in Chrome.

What was FLoC?

Before we get into “Topics,” let’s talk about what they replace. Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) was a method for advertisers to track user data in Chrome without cookies.

FLoC enables “behavioral targeting” without cookies. When you visit a website in Chrome, your browsing history is assigned an ID that puts you in a group with other people with similar browsing histories. These groups were called ‘cohorts’.

Advertisers could see the browsing behavior of people in the cohort without seeing information about the individuals. Each person was given an anonymous ID. So the general idea was that advertisers could serve you personalized ads without knowing your identity.

That is a very short explanation of FLoC. Our full explanation of how FLoC worked takes a closer look.

RELATED: What Is Google’s FLoC, and How Will It Track You Online?

What is “subjects”?

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Topic is a similar idea to FLoC, but it’s a bit more abstract. Chrome identifies some of your top interests each week to reflect your browsing habits. For example, these interests can be general things, such as ‘sports’ or ‘travel’.

Then, when you visit a participating website, Chrome selects three interests to share with its advertising partners. Advertisers use these “Topics” to decide which targeted advertisements may serve you. If “sports” is one of your interests, you probably see some sports ads, etc.

Topics are kept for three weeks and then deleted. The selection process takes place on your device, not on external servers. The topics Chrome associates with your browsing history are from a list of 300 that Google has compiled. That list doesn’t include things like gender or race.

As mentioned, this only applies to websites that participate in “Topics”. Websites that do not use the Topics API does not receive this information from the browser.

How are topics different from FLoC?

The main difference between Topics and FLoC is that there are no cohorts. While cohorts were designed to keep people anonymous, there were still methods that could be used to locate users.

Cohorts were the main feature of FLoC. Chrome collected data about you in order to assign you to a cohort, and that cohort was then shared with the website advertisers to serve targeted ads. Topics, on the other hand, only share interests with advertisers, not associated with specific users.

In general, think of Topics as a less specific version of FLoC. We don’t know the full list of 300 topics Chrome can assign to a user, but we know they don’t include things like gender, race, or sexual orientation.

Can I unsubscribe?

One of the good things about FLoC is that you can opt out of it. At the time of writing on January 25, 2022, we don’t have the exact details, but it appears that Google will allow Chrome users to disable Topics. We don’t know if it is enabled by default.

In addition, Google allows you to see the topics associated with your browsing. You can delete the topics you don’t consider appropriate, but there’s no way to add your own topics – if that’s anything you’d like to do.

RELATED: How to Opt Out of Google FLoC in Chrome

When will “topics” be rolled out?

Google begins developer testing of the Topics API in Chrome. Before anyone can use it, websites need to implement and test it for themselves. Google announced it in January 2022 and it will probably be a while before it becomes widespread enough to affect most of your browsing.

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