Chrome’s ‘Topics’ Advertising System Is Here, Whether You Want It Or Not

slack_justyb writes: After the failure of the Chrome user-tracking system that was called FLoC, Google's latest try at topic tracking to replace the 3rd party cookie (that Chrome is the only browser to still support) is FLEDGE and the most recent drop of Canary has this on full display for users and privacy advocates to dive deeper into. This recent release shows Google's hand that it views user tracking as a mandatory part of internet usage, especially given this system's eye-rolling name of "Privacy Sandbox" and the tightness in the coupling of this new API to the browser directly. The new API will allow the browser itself to build what it believes to be things that you are interested in, based on broad topics that Google creates. New topics and methods for how you are placed into those topics will be added to the browser's database and indexing software via updates from Google. The main point to take away here though is that the topic database is built using your CPU's time. At this time, opting out of the browser building this interest database is possible thus saving you a few cycles from being used for that purpose. In the future there may not be a way to stop the browser from using cycles to build the database; the only means may be to just constantly remove all interest from your personal database. At this time there doesn't seem to be any way to completely turn off the underlying API. A website that expects this API will always succeed in "some sort of response" so long as you are using Chrome. The response may be that you are interested in nothing, but a response none-the-less. Of course, sending a response of "interested in nothing" would more than likely require someone constantly, and timely, clearing out the interest database, especially if at some later time the option to turn off the building of the database is removed. With 82% of Google's empire based on ad revenue, this latest development in Chrome shows that Google is not keen on any moves to threaten their main money maker. Google continues to argue that it is mandatory that it builds a user tracking and advertising system into Chrome, and the company says it won't block third-party cookies until it accomplishes that -- no matter what the final solution may ultimately be. The upshot, if it can be called that, of the FLEDGE API over FLoC, is that abuse of FLEDGE looks to yield less valuable results. And attempting to use the API alone to pick out an individual user via fingerprinting or other methods employed elsewhere seems to be rather difficult to do. But only time will tell if that remains true or just Google idealizing this new API. As for the current timeline, here's what the company had to say in the latest Chromium Blog post: "Starting today, developers can begin testing globally the Topics, FLEDGE, and Attribution Reporting APIs in the Canary version of Chrome. 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 to expand testing to more Chrome users."

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