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AccuraCast MD responds to the news

Early last year, Google announced that it would be trialling the replacement of 3rd party tracking cookies with a system called FLoC which stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. This was slated as the future of an internet that did not rely on identity-revealing tracking systems. However, last week, Google announced that it would not be using FLoC. Instead, Google plans to allow advertisers to target users via Topics. The system appears to be just as unpopular amongst the advertising community as its predecessor.

Speaking to the BBC about the announcement, AccuraCast’s founder, Farhad Divecha, said “The past year has made it fairly clear that Google still aren’t really sure of the best way forward.”

Part of the Privacy Sandbox proposal by Google, Topics will be based on each user’s browsing behaviour, but will stop third-party platforms from accessing any personally identifiable information. Instead, when a user visits an ad publisher’s site, the browser will pick three topics of interest for the user from the past three weeks – one per week – and share those topics with the publisher and its advertisers for ad serving, without disclosing the user’s identity or specifics about the sites they visited.

In conversations with The Drum, Performance Marketer and Digiday, Farhad explained that while FLoC did not make sense to most advertisers, he had reservations about Topics’ suitability as a solution that would give individuals greater control over their privacy, while allowing companies to market their goods and services effectively.

Chrome will pick the five most popular topics of interest for the user each week, and store those topics in-browser. Topics will be deleted after three weeks. One additional topic, chosen uniformly at random, will be appended for a total of 6 topics associated with the user for that week. When publishers request information about Topics of interest for that browser’s user, Google will pull one Topic for each of the past three weeks, with a 5% chance that the random topic may be returned.

“Does Google seriously believe that the average person’s attention span only covers 5 topics in a week?”, asks Farhad, “In an average week, most users will think about work, eating out, entertainment, commuting, potentially about holidays, health & wellbeing – that’s 6 things already, and they’re all fairly wide and applicable to everyone today.”

In order to achieve reach, brand advertisers may be forced to go broader with targeting. If taken at face value, nothing in Google’s announcement suggests that advertisers will be party to reach and frequency controls. The loss of reliable reach and frequency metrics will irk most brand marketers.

Speaking to The Guardian on Wednesday, Farhad said “Privacy advocates are going to feel that this is still not quite enough, because there’s reasons why this is still tracking behaviour. And on the flip side, advertisers are going to say you’re taking away stuff from me.”

The future of brand advertising remains murky after this news. AccuraCast will continue to monitor the situation, and make proactive changes in our work to achieve the best possible value for our advertising clients.