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For the past decade, advertisers and websites have relied on contextual ads to earn money. Google Chrome decided to change this with the Topics Tab. Chrome developers promised that this new advertisement model would do several things. Firstly, it would give users more privacy. Secondly, websites would show ads based on visitor interests.
The developer team has been working on the new API since January 2022. A month ago, they released an update video explaining the progress as well as some key features. So what is Topics Tab exactly, and how does Google plan to use it? Read this article to find out more.
Topics Tab Application
Chrome designed this API as a privacy-oriented alternative to third-party cookies. Instead of logging all browser data, it looks at websites last visited by users. For example, you’ve been looking at college websites lately. Google Topics will show advertisements such as “buy admission essay” to help out with the application. It’s actually an ad on the more useful side, as it can help students master their essays and skyrocket their applications.
The new system looks at website host names to determine their themes. Once the algorithm finds out your interests, it shares them with ad tech companies and participating websites. This way, users get more personalized advertisements. There are several advantages to this way of data tracking:
- The information is stored for a maximum of 3 weeks
- No information is shared with external servers
Google envisions Topics API as a balance between user privacy and ad personalization. But, the technology still needs polishing before it becomes widely available.
How It Works
In theory, a browser automatically assigns a number of topics to a user. They are generated based on recently visited websites. For example, if a person visits bookstores and video game news websites, he will get the Books & Literature or News topics. Google developers initially made a list of 350 categories. But, it’s still unclear if it will be condensed or expanded.
The only sure thing is it will exclude any sensitive topics. These include race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Topics create three weekly batches and select one random category from each of them. The data is later shared with any participating websites and ad tech companies.
These parties use the information to show specifically targeted ads. All categories from the previous three-week period get deleted once the fourth week starts. The process is repeated every three weeks. Google wants to create advertising that keeps user data anonymous. This system is called interest-based advertising.
Google describes this advertising method as giving personalized ads based on user interests. This is a step forward from contextual ads which match the content of an opened page. There are several uses for IBA:
- Help advertisers reach prospective customers
- Fund websites that have no other form of monetization
- Supplement contextual information to help find appropriate ads
One of the latest advances in the Topic API toolkit is its design to reduce fingerprints. Chrome wants to make user identification across websites more difficult. The tool returns topics from a user’s top 5 list. In 5% of cases, ad providers are given a random topic from the list. The code added to a web page can learn only one topic a week from users who frequently visit them.
Chrome further promises to send different sites distinct topics for the same user. These will be sent out every three weeks. But, there’s a slight chance that several websites can get the same topics. This way, it’s less likely to find out if the same user visits different pages.
Topics Tab Options
Google plans to give users an option of removing individual topics. They will gain access to topics stored in the browser. Any new ads can also be disabled. If they want to, both websites and users can stop using Google’s Topics API. That’s because it requires four parties to work.
This includes the user, the browser, the opened page, and the website that provides the ads. Ures can do it by clearing browsing history. Topics also won’t work in the Incognito mode. As for websites, they will only get weekly categories from domains using the Topics API. Additionally, only pages that integrate the API can get access to this data.
Plans For The Future
Topics are still far from being fully developed. The API is currently supported only by Google Chrome. There’s no telling how the tool will work in other browsers. But, there are several confirmed things.
The Topics API is currently in a stage of an origin trial. Any website can apply for the tool until the 24th of August. Chrome also opened a discussion about the new API. Users are strongly encouraged to give feedback and leave comments. If they run into any trouble, it’s possible to create issues on the Topics Explainer repository.
It’s still unknown whether the industry will favor the new ad display. Although Topics gathers and shares fewer user data, it may not be adopted by privacy-focused browsers. Brave, Firefox, and Vivaldi can all reject the new ad distribution system much as they did with FLoC.
Topics Tab is far from being finished. But, giving web browser users more privacy and advertisers a better understanding of their clients is a good way forward. Time will tell if Google’s new tool finds any widespread support.