back to article Google dumps interest-based ad system for another interest-based ad system

Google has given up on Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), a categorization system for serving interest-based ads, and replaced it with Topics, a categorization system for serving interest-based ads. Caught between the push to do something about cookie-based tracking and the counter-revolution to get regulators to keep third …

  1. sabroni Silver badge
    Boffin

    FFS

    "With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like 'Fitness' or 'Travel & Transportation,' that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history"

    Well, how about you just display your list of topics and let me pick the ones I want to see ads for? No need to phone home with my browsing history or devise clever algorithms.

    Users might even opt in to a system like that....

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      Exactly. According to that algorithm my top interest this week is car bodyshops that can repair accident damage. I sincerely hope I will have no need to see adverts for that ever again.

      1. b0llchit Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: FFS

        Sure you do! The subliminal messages sent in the adverts ensure that you will crash a bit more. Simultaneously, you are directed to the most profitable(*) bodyshop.

        (*) not profitable for you, of course. The owner of the bodyshop is happy to see you. Again and again.

        1. EricB123 Bronze badge

          Re: FFS

          Have you also been seeing an increase in adverts for whiskey as well?

    2. b0llchit Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: FFS

      Users might even opt in to a system like that....

      Are you sure? If you inform the user properly about the consequences and give the default option "none of the above" (i.e. opt out), what chance do you have that anyone would want to opt in?

      Honesty is one thing the advertising branch does practice. They would expose their creepiness if they did and nearly everybody would run away fast. The (targeted) advertising branch is using you to push and sell more stuff nobody wants or needs and effectively promotes destructive consumerism. Do we need more wolf disguised in sheep's skin?

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: FFS

        "Honesty is one thing the advertising branch does practice. They would expose their creepiness if they did and nearly everybody would run away fast."

        Are you sure about that? What if people heard the unvarnished truth AND EMBRACED IT? Sort of like the praise someone got for bragging he could shoot someone in broad daylight and not get in trouble...

    3. LDS Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: FFS

      Just, the browser processing your history to extract "topics" ends to know mostly everything about you. And you have no assurance that it doesn't report everything to its "creators". Once again this is a move to create a Google silo where only the Eye of Google sees all the data and others have to pay Google to access the herds they wish to sell something too. That's "privacy" only in the meaning that your data becomes Google's private property.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FFS

      I don't know about that. My experience leads me to believe that the advantage to the seller of being "first to show" is a slight increase in the profit margin. It increases the chance that the user will click-to-buy before shopping around. Amazon definitely uses that tactic; even in a normal search more expensive items tend to be shown first. Further searches with the same keywords on the same Amazon site at a later time will expand the range.

      It all boils down to being in the pole position on the panopticon. If the consumer can do their own search and get an honest wide range of options with prices, they'll get a better deal.

      1. julian.smith
        WTF?

        Re: FFS

        "My experience leads me to believe that the advantage to the seller of being "first to show" is a slight increase in the profit margin."

        An interesting example of the difference between anacdote and data

        Provide evidence to support your anecdote or STFU

    5. AndrueC Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: FFS

      Well, how about you just display your list of topics and let me pick the ones I want to see ads for? No need to phone home with my browsing history or devise clever algorithms

      That's true. 'None' is a simple algorithm to implement ;)

    6. HildyJ Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: FFS

      Google's Discover feed (the swipe left from your home page, not Google News) does this and it's useful for finding new stories relevant to me. For the billions of people who use Chrome I can see this as a popular option.

      I suppose advertisers have amassed this information but I'm not concerned because I tend to ignore "promoted content" and with Firefox and uBlock I don't see any ads. To me Google's attempts it are worth it because it eliminates cookies. Being paranoid, I automatically delete all cookies every time I close Firefox.

      Let's face it, there will never be a "don't show any ads" in Google

    7. DS999 Silver badge

      Gaming the system

      I would pick "interests" based on who I think are the slimiest schemers I want to see waste their ad money. Hurts both them and if enough people did it Google as their ads would become less effective so people would be willing to pay less for them.

      So I guess NFTs would be my interest of the week right now.

    8. big_D Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      Or even, and here is a crazy idea, why not target the site I'm visiting, collect their information and leave me the f' alone?

      It won't be any worse than the current system.

      Google can't seem to make its mind up. According to them, I am a pensioner, I have arthritis and I am at risk for shingles, oh and I should get my newborn baby vaccinated as well, while I am at it...

      I'm not a pensioner, I don't have arthritis, shingles isn't an issue and I don't have a newborn baby.

      Or Amazon, which can't decide just how many kitchens I have in my apartment (I bought a dishwasher from them and all I got offered for the next 6 months were further dishwashers) or how many ears I have (after I bought a new smartphone, I was getting daily offers for other smartphones).

    9. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: FFS

      Users might even opt in to a system like that....

      I wouldn't but then I'm a professional paranoid that doesn't trust any ad broker.. (which is why I use adblockers with NoScript and Privacy Badger and/or browsers that reject adverts)

    10. katrinab Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: FFS

      Even better. Why not let the website owner select the ad topics. On this site it would be tech-related stuff.

  2. jmch Silver badge

    No more trust

    Topics all sounds fine and dandy when described in this way, but who can trust the actual implementation? How do I know what topics my browser is flagging? How do I know that what my browser is telling me it's collecting and sending is what it's actually doing? How do I know this stuff gets deleted when they say it does? How do I know that the topics sent by my browser aren't being collated against my IP, browser name / version, OS name / version etc etc, and kept somewhere else?

    The reality is that we don't, and there is no way to fix this as long as user privacy is dependent on trusting any server to respect ther privacy. The trust model has to be flipped around on it's head, where data is controlled by the user. I'm sure someone (much) cleverer than me can work on the technical details, but what is needed is something like an encrypted token with user data that automatically expires after a certain time. The user enters, controls and owns the data. If some data is required to make a site work (ie online shop or ticket booking), the site only gets the data it needs and nothing else. Users can put sites in trust categories and manage trust settings per category so they don't need to faff about with settings all the time. 3rd party sites don't get any data. And if ad networks want to get any demographic information, they have to pay the user directly. Then the user can make that choice whether to sell their data or not, instead of Google vacuuming up the data by brute force or stealth and selling it off.

    Of course users also have the choice of whether they want to pay for services like gmail, google maps etc by releasing their data or by paying cash - there are no free lunches. But at least it's explicit what's going on, and Google's monstrous profits give some strong clues about what the value of the user data it collects from these 'free' services really is compared to the cost to Google of running these services.

    The other thing is to stop browsers sending all the details about browser type, version, OS type and version, in fact any details about what hardware / software it's running on. A web site should not need any of this information to serve a readable webpage, that's what web standards are for! (the single concession I would make to this is whether the device is mobile or not)

    1. Billy Whiz

      Re: No more trust

      I think that's what Tim Berners Lees' Inrupt organisation attempts to do. Don't know the details or how successful they are, but they are trying to do that sort of thing

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No more trust

      Even if you click the cookie consent popup and deselect everything except 'essential' you are probably still consenting to them hoovering up data about you, including creating profiles identifying you and your household across multiple devices, and of course it isn't the website that's actually doing this, it's their 'partners' like Google and Adobe, and they probably get little of that back apart from the number of pages visited

  3. DrXym Silver badge

    How about a disinterest based system

    Here are 3 things this person has not browsed for this month. That's it. Don't waste your time advertising those things. For advertising anything else, pot luck.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about a browser that just renders the pages I ask for and does nothing else? If companies want to sell me stuff, they don't need to stalk me. I will find them, as and when I need to buy the thing they are selling.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Or you know, they could find publications which are likely to interest me - and serve a static ad on their front page for a week

  5. John Lilburne

    Well well well

    I was scanning through my browser history the other day. 1000s of page hits on Medieval Tombs, Renaissance Art history, Heteroptera and Coleoptera insects. So what ads are they going to be showing me? Funeral Directors, and Pest control most likely. Good job I don't use google browser, or their piss poor search engine, and I have all the whitelisted sites provided by AdBlock added to the blacklisted sites.

  6. Howard Sway Silver badge

    This all happens locally within your browser

    Problem : Google senses regulatory trouble for collecting and analysing too much info on users browsing history.

    Solution : Google makes users collect and analyse their own browsing history and then hand this analysis over to websites when they visit them.

    When will I find the first website which bars me from visiting because I don't have this feature enabled? Because no way am I running constant analysis of my own web use locally, just so Google can make some more cash. Forget cryptojacking, this is adjacking.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: This all happens locally within your browser

      And if it turns out to be government website or some other site where no substitution is possible (and yes, they do exist)?

  7. grizewald

    Are you deaf or stupid Google?

    Or maybe (more likely) you just don't care.

    I do not give you permission to collect any of my browsing history. I do not want to see advertising, targeted or otherwise.

    Being able to adapt and realise new solutions to challenges is a sign of intelligence. Repeatedly flogging a dead horse because

    you can't think of a different approach is not.

    1. hj

      Re: Are you deaf or stupid Google?

      Then you should just use another browser! (there still is choice)

  8. Zebo-the-Fat

    No point

    No point sending me any ads... I refuse to use a company that pesters me with ads, If I want to buy a product I will look for them, not the other way around.

    (one reason why I haven't watched live TV for years.. programs I want to watch ruined by ads)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No point

      We are often warned about dodgy emails promising us the earth - if it's too good to be true, then it's probably ain't!

      How do we know the ads are going to be legit?

      1. julian.smith
        Mushroom

        Re: No point

        Q: What is a legit ad?

        A: An oxymoron

    2. julian.smith
      FAIL

      Re: No point

      I'm with you

      Who pays for advertising? The marks

      FTA TV: is it still a thing?

      I left long ago - no interst in dickheads shouting at mr to buy a shed or a ute

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: No point

      programs I want to watch ruined by ads

      This is why I (mostly) stick to non-advert funded channels (BBC mostly). If I do want programs from other channels I record them and fast-forward through the adverts.

  9. Pangasinan Philippines
    Joke

    Me, influenced by ads? Never!

    Hmmmmm, Topics, "A Hazelnut in Every Bite" ( byte! )

    1. Evil Scot

      Re: Me, influenced by ads? Never!

      Really?

      Are you a fruit and nut case?

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Me, influenced by ads? Never!

        *Everyone's* a fruit and nutcase.

        (tiddly pom)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Me, influenced by ads? Never!

          You two are showing your age! (And mine by replying!)

          How many years ago was that?

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Me, influenced by ads? Never!

            How many years ago was that?

            Too many and I'm feeling every one of them.

            Life sucks but the alternative is worse.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Me, influenced by ads? Never!

      What has a hazelnut in every bite?

      Squirrel $#!+

  10. Evil Scot
    Mushroom

    Topic based advertising. Yeah that works.

    It looks like you are interested in male grooming products. Beard care. Would you like to buy a razor?

    So you ignore the Do Not Track option in my browser. Install files that you later use (without my permission) and wonder why your computers are banned from MY NETWORK!!!!!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Privacy and competition are like oil and water

    Both FLoC and Topics, he [Brave's Peter Snyder] contends, hurt privacy and competition.

    Yeah but the "competition" hurts privacy equally, and maybe more. I say maybe more because it seems to be more likely that fly-by-night data congregators will sell data to uncouth organizations.

  12. xyz123 Bronze badge

    Is there an addon for chrome that destroys ALL cookies except ones I mark to be kept (logins for sites)?

    I'd like to just erase the cookies as-I-go as it wouldn't slow the browser to have to delete just 1 or 2 cookies per page change.

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      I use cookie autodelete - you can whitelist domains or even individual cookies. It kills the cookies a set time after leaving a site

      1. MOH

        Aren't Google planning to remove the ability to delete individual cookies? Because "something something users something stupid"

      2. Dave559 Silver badge

        Cookie AutoDelete is of course also available for Firefox (and MS Edge).

        I dare say that if you willingly use Google Chrome, you sort of deserve what you get (like their forthcoming deliberate removal of some APIs which currently help to allow privacy add-ons to properly protect your privacy).

  13. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Topics are selected entirely on your device

    So presumably they won't be selected at all if using e.g. private browsing, ublock origin, and/or noscript on a non-google browser?

    1. julian.smith
      Happy

      Re: Topics are selected entirely on your device

      +1 Cookie Autodelete

  14. msobkow Silver badge

    Clue in Google: I don't want your spam, I'm not buying the crap you're shilling, and you're WAY off on my interests 99% of the time.

    1. Zolko Silver badge

      Me too ... but I suspect that 99% of humanity doesn't understand what's happening. And even those who do don't know what to do about it, and/or don't care. Or even welcome such crap.

    2. julian.smith
      Linux

      I don't want your spam, ... and you're WAY off on my interests 99% of the time.

      An interesting demonstration of the state of the art in AI

  15. smittyreff

    I think that Google uses quite complex algorithms for analysis. Personally, I like that when I looked at a product, then I see its advertisement. In reality, with the help of advertising, I find out about interesting offers and then I’m already looking for a place where this product is sold cheaper.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Bolox you do.

      -A.

  16. captain veg Silver badge

    My computer. Mybrowser

    "With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like 'Fitness' or 'Travel & Transportation,' that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history,"

    What the fucking Fuck?

    WTFingF is *any* browser doing "determining" anything at all "based on your browser history"?

    Fetch HTML. Render HTML. That's it.

    -A.

  17. ShadowSystems

    What about multi user computers?

    Let us use the example of a family computer, sitting in a corner of the living room, that is used by anyone at any time with no individual accounts.

    Little Timmy surfs for RawBlocks stuff; Little Suzy looks for sparkly vampire stuff; Mom has a recipie addiction that causes her to browse foreign sites to scrape potential new foods to try; Dad only does his banking & accounting sites. So how will the browser know what stuff to serve to whom?

    Then one of Mom's drinking buddies comes over while the kids are at school, mom is on the phone talking to her bookie, so friend starts surfing porn. Will the browser then start serving up smut to the kids thinking it proper?

    The browser can't keep the different surfing habits separate unless the individual users have individual accounts *and always properly log in/out of their account every time*, so how will said browser makers handle "one computer used by multiple people" situations?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: What about multi user computers?

      You're getting into IYODF territory, as this is akin to letting the kids use an unfiltered web browser. At some point, responsibility will have to kick in.

      However, having said that, some parents can't handle that responsibility, leading to a dilemma over who handles abdicated responsibility.

  18. IGotOut Silver badge

    And what about...

    ... browser makers that decide not to implement this? No ads? Or broken sites?

  19. Persona Silver badge

    Pipetting Robots

    Based on the adverts Google slings at me it obviously thinks my interests are "Switch Bikes", "Huel" and its competitor brands, "Civilization building games" with cartoon like graphics and bizarrely "Pipetting Robots". Needless to say I don't ever ride a bike, eat that meal replacement stuff or play those types of games and the closest I come to a pipetting robot is seeing them on the news when they are in a lab that is doing some sort of health related testing. No matter how hard Google try I'm not going to set up a business using pipetting robots that I commute to on my Switch Bike, only eating Huel and relaxing after a busy day playing low quality Civilization rip off games. Fortunately for Google this isn't a problem as they get paid for slinging the ads regardless.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How about going back to the traditional model

    I visit a car site and see mainly car ads plus a few approved by the site, I visit a gossip/Daily Mail site and get served up 'influencer' ads

    After all, the pr0n merchants already do this... well, I image they do... allegedly

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ever thought why they haven't? Probably because the modern firms like Google ate them for lunch...

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