Brave Says FLoC You to Google’s Topics API

Posted on January 27, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Google Chrome, Web browsers with 13 Comments

Brave, which has been blocking Google’s FLoC since last April, now says that the new Topics API does nothing to address the problem.

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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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Brave Says FLoC You to Google’s Topics API”

  1. wright_is

    Hopefully Apple, Mozilla, Opera and Vivaldi will continue in this vein as well.

    I'm still of the opinion that they need to just stop the tracking, completely, and move to targeting the pages/sites I visit. I can't be any less accurate.

    Google can't seem to decide what I'm interested in, it seems to thing I'm a retiree, with arthritis, at risk of shingles, oh, and that I should get my newborn baby vaccinated... Only, I'm not retired, I don't have arthritis, shingles isn't an issue and I don't have a newborn baby!

    Amazon isn't any better. Having bought a dishwasher, it tried selling me more dishwashers for the next 6 months for all the other kitchens in my house! Or, after buying a new smartphone, it kept trying to sell me another one for the other ear!

    Advertising is a waste of my time, and if these companies are telling their customers that their adverts are targeted, they are lying and conning them out of money for services they aren't delivering. At least with ads based on the site I'm viewing, they might actually be of interest to me...

    • anoldamigauser

      Fully agree that advertisers would do better to target the site. At best, I ignore ads; at worst, they are so annoying I make note not to do business with the advertiser.

    • JerryH

      I completely agree. I have the same experiences that you do - supposedly targeted ads showing suspiciously poor targeting (such as ads for feminine hygiene products and skin care solutions) and also the issue of things you've already bought following you around for 6 months. Fortunately on Windows I just run an ad blocker but I haven't gone through the trouble to do so yet on Android - so there I see these ads that are targeted in an extremely ineffective way. Agree with your comment that the service being provided to advertisers is so broken that they should get a refund...

    • darkgrayknight

      Same here, totally useless to have ads for what I just bought. The odds are high I won't be buying another for years and at the least a few months for most products. Ultimately I just ignore most ads or if there are too many on a site, I don't visit the site anymore.

  2. anoldamigauser

    I think that people have to stop thinking of Google as a technology company and realize that it is an advertising company that uses technology.

    It uses technology to get people to forego their privacy for convenience and to hoover up every bit of their online behaviour. It uses technology to target ads at those people based on that behaviour, despite the fact that it may have nothing to do with their buying interests, to the highest bidder...not an advertiser offering something that the target may actually be interested in.

    Sadly, the entire surveillance economy reminds me of the movie Wall*E, and the Buy-N-Large business that seemed to run the world.

  3. LT1 Z51

    The bigger problem is the entire economy which has sprung up around this data. Not just advertisers, but people who get paid to drive clicks and algorithms which are created to drive clicks.

    The laziness of society, political extremism, and general degradation of social constructs are all caused by people being on their devices more and consuming more content (which is only available because the content creators are getting paid).

  4. j5

    I just came to laugh at the title of the article, nice one Paul!

  5. marbo100

    Can they still track you if you use an ad blocker? If you do use an ad blocker, does it matter if they track you?

    • wright_is

      It depends on how the ad-blocker works. If it stops all JavaScript and images being loaded, then, yes, it can help reduce tracking. But some sites use a tracker domain and an ad serving domain. If the adblocker only blocks the ads from being shown and doesn't stop the tracking code being loaded, you will still be tracked.

      I use a PiHole at home, which does DNS blocking. Currently it is blocking around 2.5 million known tracking and malware domains.

      • marbo100

        Okay, but does it matter if I can't see the ads? If the ads are blocked why would it matter if they track me? I guess I'm asking what else can they do to me with the data they get from tracking me?

        I'll look into a pi-hole. Thanks.

  6. marbo100

    Yeah. What can they do with that collected information exactly? That's what I'm asking.

    • darkgrayknight

      With enough information about which sites you've visited collected over time, a lot can be determined about you and potentially enough to determine who you are. With enough data pulled from data breaches and pulled from your browser, one could steal your identity, hack your accounts, or know enough to steal from you or follow you in the real world. It's a treasure trove for those that hate you or want to control you.

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