- Apr 24, 2016
It’s no secret that Google for years has been trying to sunset the third-party cookie, the bedrock of retargeting ads and once the online tracking essential. While many other browsers are already blocking third-party cookies, seeing them as a privacy threat, Google still allows them in Chrome and will continue to do so until at least 2024. The reason Chrome has lagged behind its competitors is that Google hoped to create an alternative to the third-party cookie that would satisfy both advertisers and privacy-conscious users. Its proposed replacement, the Topics API, is promising to do just that. But sadly, and predictably, it has failed in its main goal — making interest-based advertising more private. In our in-depth article on the subject, we explained why in detail. And it’s not that our bar is set too high. Various privacy advocates, browser vendors and other industry players have poked holes in Google’s approach as well.
Now, Google’s proposed API has been dealt another blow. After reviewing the API, the W3C Technical Architecture Group (TAG), a special working group within the World Wide Web Consortium, concluded that Topics fell short of achieving its ambition goal: that is to protect people’s privacy while also protecting advertisers from losing revenue. But what makes the Topics API, the cornerstone of Google’s privacy initiative, so bad?
The core idea of Topics is to allow advertisers to keep targeting users with interest-based ads, while protecting the latter from unwanted tracking and profiling. As it turns out, you probably still can’t have your cake and eat it too.
According to TAG, the new API does not change the “status quo of inappropriate surveillance on the web,” because it still allows the browser to share information about a user’s browsing history with websites. Moreover, it does not give the user “fine-grained control” over what those sites can learn about them. The TAG wants Google to stop Topics API in its tracks. “We do not want to see it proceed further,” the group said.
The overwhelmingly negative reaction to FLoC once prompted Google to scrap it and look for alternatives. But this time, despite the threat of limited browser adoption, Google has signaled that it has no intention of backing down. In its response to TAG, Google said it would proceed implementing the Topics API as planned.
While we appreciate the input of TAG, we disagree with their characterization that Topics maintains the status quo. Google is committed to Topics, as it is a significant privacy improvement over third-party cookies, and we’re moving forward
Google has been trying to replace third-party cookies in Chrome with a less privacy-invasive tracking method, called Topics. But the growing criticism suggests the company is not on the right track.