Google Introduces Topics (and Drops FLoC) as Tracking Cookie Replacement

Becky Doles

Google Introduces Topics and Drops FLoC as Tracking Cookie Replacement
Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

Google didn’t even wait a month into 2022 to stir up the online advertising industry again, this time with more news about Chrome’s slow depreciation of third-party tracking cookies. The main takeaway? Google is abandoning its previous cookie replacement solution, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), in favor of a new solution called Topics. Their new timeline for phasing out support for third-party cookies is late 2023, but, like all things cookie-related, this is also subject to change.

If you’re feeling a bit of whiplash thanks to all of this back-and-forth, you’re not alone. In this post, we’ll review what performance marketers need to know right now to prepare for the future of tracking on Chrome.

Goodbye, FLoC

Back in March 2021, Google announced it would be testing a new, privacy-preserving way to aggregate, anonymize, and process individual data for advertising purposes. Known as FLoC, this framework was designed to “hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.” FLoC, along with the rest of Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiatives, would allow the tech giant to meet its goal of phasing out third-party cookies by the end of 2022. 

Turns out, FLoC wasn’t all that great at protecting users’ privacy. While the framework did group users into cohorts for targeting purposes, it still collected (and shared) granular, sensitive demographic information about those users. Theoretically, that meant it would be possible to use fingerprinting techniques to identify individuals within a given cohort. Privacy advocates had other concerns about FLoC as well, but this potential for fingerprinting seems to have been a deal breaker.

Hello, Google Topics

Enter Google’s Topics API. Unlike FLoC, Topics keeps users separate for targeting purposes. Based on their browsing behavior, each user is assigned specific “topics” related to their interests. There are currently 300 topics on Google’s list, and they cover a range of generic categories — cars, literature, rock music, team sports, and so on. According to The Drum, here’s how they work for advertising: 

“When a user reaches a site that supports Topics for ad purposes, the browser will pull three topics that the user is interested in from the past three weeks – chosen at random from the user’s top five topics each week – and allow the website to share these topics with advertisers. This information will be used to help advertisers determine which ads to display, without allowing access to granular user data or identifiers.”

The idea is that, by sharing these broad categories — and only these categories — with websites and advertisers, Google will be able to better protect individuals’ privacy while still providing marketers with the information needed to serve relevant ads. 

Consequences for Partner Marketing

Like we said in our previous post about FLoC, these changes don’t spell disaster for partner marketing. Not by a long shot. 

The partner marketing industry is built on first-party relationships. In a way, Google’s Topics is simply recreating what publishers, affiliates, and other marketing partners have been doing for years: engaging audiences with content they want. It’s clear this approach is working, as more brands turn to the guaranteed ROI of partner marketing over the same old retargeting tactics.  

And while tracking will still need to exist without the third-party cookie, there are already privacy-friendly methods available for advertisers and publishers to use. The one we have always recommended at TUNE is postback tracking, a server-side method that is completely independent from web browsers. No cookies? No problem.

For more information on the future of tracking and the current methods available to advertisers, download our guide to tracking marketing campaigns.

Questions about postback tracking, partner marketing, or how the TUNE platform could benefit your business? Email us at [email protected]

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

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