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Google Opens new Ad-Targeting API—Topics, ‘Privacy Sandbox’ and FLEDGE

Cookies are dead—or, at least, their days are numbered. Instead, Google wants to shape the future of targeted advertising.

With the new, cuddly name of Privacy Sandbox, la GOOG wants your browser to infer your interests—so the company can be the gatekeeper for ad choices. AI built into Chrome will curate a shortlist of topics that it thinks interest you.

Cybersecurity Live - Washington DC

Think it sounds creepy and monopolistic? You’re probably not wrong. In today’s SB Blogwatch, we might be The Product, but we ain’t no fools.

Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment. Not to mention: The need for speed.

Bad Google—No Cookie

What’s the craic? Natasha Lomas reports—“Google starts global tests of Privacy Sandbox ad targeting”:

Predatory and discriminatory targeting
The Sandbox refers to an evolving — and now very closely overseen — ad targeting tech stack that Google has proposed for replacing tracking cookie-based targeted advertising … with alternatives that it argues will be better for users’ privacy, yet still effective for generating ad revenue. [It] is made up of multiple components, such as Topics (Google’s idea for interest-based ad targeting via browser-based tracking of users’ web activity) … and FLEDGE, Google’s proposal for remarketing and custom audiences without individual-level user tracking.

Whether Google’s approach with Sandbox will truly be privacy preserving is one rather salient and yet to be answered question. … There is also the wider issue of whether targeting ads based on inferred interests … by surveilling their browsing locally won’t simply replicate the predatory and discriminatory targeting [of] current individual tracking-based adtech.

And Steve Dent knows where his towel is—“Google is testing its new Privacy Sandbox”:

Developers can begin testing
Google is starting “origin trials” for the Chrome Privacy Sandbox, its new system for serving targeted ads without using cookies, the company announced. The initial aim is to test ad relevance.

Origin trials will let Google test experimental Chrome technology with a limited number of people to make sure it’s ready for general use. [Now] developers can begin testing code for Topics, FLEDGE and Attribution Reporting in the Canary Chrome beta.

Horse’s mouth? It’s Vinay Goel—“What to Expect from Privacy Sandbox Testing”:

Thoughtful feedback of early testers
We’ll progress to a limited number of Chrome Beta users as soon as possible. Once things are working smoothly in Beta, we’ll make API testing available in the stable version of Chrome.

We recognize that developers will need some time to use the APIs, validate the data flows, and measure performance. We are looking forward to companies providing feedback as they move through the different testing phases, which will allow us to continually improve the APIs. Once we’re confident that the APIs are working as designed, we’ll make them broadly available.

We strongly encourage developers to share feedback publicly and with Chrome. … The Privacy Sandbox proposals have already benefited substantially from the thoughtful feedback of early testers. … We’ll continue to gather feedback from the ecosystem and to engage with regulators.

To which, Dark Jaguar has this angry riposte:

Google, you’re the one selling “user tracking” as part of your ad network. … If we can’t disable this feature entirely, we’ll pick a version of Chromium that will. If none will, Firefox is still right there.

Google can still keep making money off ads all it likes. I won’t criticize them for that. They just have to accept that “tracking” is going to die.

But what happened to FLoC? AmiMoJo explains:

It’s not perfect, but …
I was involved with the design review of FLoC that ultimately lead to it being killed off. … FLoC was fundamentally flawed because it could be abused to gather more information about the target than was intended. … Topics has fixed most of it. … Also, you can completely turn it off.

When you visit a site that uses Topics, the site gets one topic that you are interested in. The list of topics is maintained by Google and the IAB. … The browser randomly selects one of the top 5 topics you are interested in, or 5% of the time a completely random one. … Users who disable or block the API will be indistinguishable from those with recent installs, who cleared browser data or who are in Private Browsing mode.

You aren’t being tracked at all. Everything is local. … You can’t easily tie the topics to an identity. … Google is also changing the user-agent to stop it being used for fingerprinting. … It’s not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we have.

Which is nice. But metadat isn’t buying it:

Go shove it
Why is tracking considered necessary in order to use the Internet? **** this noise.

The more I learn … the more I’m creeped out. … Recently I’ve been defaulting to Safari, and for Android … Brave. These browsers have kept improving over time and today they are actually really nice.

What is best for Google is inherently not so good for respecting end users desire to live their life without personal data being beamed back to the mother ship. This whole thing feels like an abuse of monopoly power. … GreedyGoogMonster can go shove it.

Wait. Pause. Edified asks the big question:

All the ad trackers out there seem to want to add categories automatically and only let you … remove them one by one. … Why is there never an option to manually add ad categories? It seems like the most direct way to get a good lead would be to ask.

But there’s a broader point. Or so thinks ZiggyZiggyZig:

Yes but … the point is, with Chrome’s new version we are doing Google’s datamining ourselves. … I don’t want my browser to do something like that.

Meanwhile, u2077 wonders how we got here:

Who on earth allowed Google to control web standards. Privacy invasion as a web standard‽ How did the world come to this?

And Finally:

Today’s best video

Previously in And Finally


You have been reading SB Blogwatch by Richi Jennings. Richi curates the best bloggy bits, finest forums, and weirdest websites … so you don’t have to. Hate mail may be directed to @RiCHi or [email protected]. Ask your doctor before reading. Your mileage may vary. E&OE. 30.

Image sauce: Ostap Senyuk (via Unsplash; leveled and cropped)

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