Google claims the new Topics API addresses FLoC’s serious privacy issues,” Brave senior director of privacy Peter Snyder writes. “Unfortunately, it does anything but. The Topics API only touches the smallest, most minor privacy issues in FLoC, while leaving its core intact. At issue is Google’s insistence on sharing information about people’s interests and behaviors with advertisers, trackers, and others on the Web that are hostile to privacy. These groups have no business—and no right—learning such sensitive information about you.”
Brave says that Topics is “at root” the same idea as FloC, a plan to ensure that web browsers continue to track the sites you visit, collect and categorize that information, and then share it with advertisers, trackers, and the sites you visit. These are, Brave notes, “actors who otherwise wouldn’t [otherwise] know this data.” In other words, Topics, like FLoC, is really about learning more about you so that advertisers can more effectively sell to you.
There are two differences between FLoC and Topics, Brave adds, but neither is addresses the “core privacy harms” of Google’s tracking. First, where FLoC would have broadcast all of your data to any site that asked, Topics will only broadcast this data to advertisers that are on are multiple sites you visit. And where FLoC learned your interests across all of the sites you visited, Topics randomizes which sites its collects interests from, making fingerprinting a bit harder. As Brave notes, however, most Chrome users are already fingerprinted by now anyway.
“The Topics API does not address the core harmfulness of FLoC: that it’s arrogant and dangerous for Google to be the arbiter of what users consider ‘sensitive’ data,” the firm furthers. “People should decide what they consider sensitive. Not Google.”
Ultimately, it appears that Topics doesn’t move the needle much on Chrome’s personal data collection. And that those who care about privacy should still consider an alternative, be it Brave or another web browser like Mozilla Firefox, Opera, or Vivaldi. But even those who do stick with Chrome—or Microsoft Edge—should protect themselves as much as possible by using a tracker blocking extension of some kind.
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