Vivaldi: Google is Going Off-Topics Again

Posted on January 28, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Google Chrome, Web browsers with 4 Comments

Not surprisingly, Brave isn’t the only browser maker unimpressed by Google’s move from FloC to Topics for tracking users. Now Vivaldi is weighing in, too.

“With Topics, Google is just twisting user tracking and profiling in different ways,” Vivaldi co-founder and CEO Jon von Tetzchner writes. “Right from the start, the document outlining how the Topics API works, clearly shows its true purpose: behavioral profiling.”

Here, he quotes the bit from Google’s announcement that explains that “key use cases that browsers want to support […] is interest-based advertising […] a form of personalized advertising in which an ad is selected for the user based on interests derived from the sites that they’ve visited in the past.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of personalized advertising, mostly because I’ve actually heard from users who believe it’s somehow “better” than random advertising. After all, the argument goes, if they have to see ads, they’d rather see “relevant” ads. This argument is flawed on so many levels, it’s hard to even know where to start. But let’s stay focused on von Tetzchner’s tear-down of Google’s business practices for now, as it relies on that kind of user acceptance. Or at least resignation.

“Google claims that [Topics] will reduce the ability of advertisers to gather enough data themselves for building a profile, but it is clear that big advertisers that have sites covering all topics will be able to obtain a full list of topics of interest for a user quite fast,” he notes, correctly. “Users are able to disable the whole system or exclude certain topics in a way that can’t be easily detected, [but] we expect that most users won’t change the defaults and will just fall victim to this anyway.”

Ultimately, Vivaldi, like Brave, argues that “Topics stays true to the FLoC spirit” in that it has the same fundamental problem as FLoC by allowing third parties to build user profiles based on what should be private activities. “It’s basically spyware,” von Tetzchner writes. He also has a solution to this problem.

“Instead of arguing endlessly about whether profiling can be made acceptable (it can’t), we would much rather start with a return to context-based advertising and then fine-tune that, if (as Google claims) there are indeed cases where it doesn’t work,” he explains.

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Comments (4)

4 responses to “Vivaldi: Google is Going Off-Topics Again”

  1. MikeCerm

    What Google is trying to do is fundamentally stupid and they need to stop. No one will ever willingly adopt tracking tech developed by Google. There is no "middle ground" where browser tracking tech can protect users' privacy to any meaningful degree while also satisfying Google's corporate goals of knowing as much about you as possible. The history of tracking users on the web resulted from the fact that the web was just kind of cobbled together. Cookies were a solution to a problem, but then when they starting being misused (for tracking purposes), they became a problem themselves. When email was developed, there was no encryption, authentication was entirely optional, etc.. If you were developing a chat app today, you would use end-to-end encryption by default. You would not develop a secure messaging app that also sends an "anonymized" message digest to Google so they could profile you, which is what Google is trying to do here.

  2. arjay

    I have come to the point where I don't want any tracking for advertising or anything else. I use all the blockers I can to make my Internet activities as private as possible.

    Maybe that means I don't get some content unless I pay for it or allow ads. Well, that's okay. When I get to a web page that will not let me view the content unless I turn off the ad blocking, I'll make that choice in the moment. And I can't possibly pay for every site that wants my money, so I have to ration the places that get my $.

    But, basically, I more likely just move on. Almost none of those pages are so compelling that I cannot live without them.

    • jeffrye

      You should try Neeva for search. I've been using it for a few months and it seems to work well and it has no ads. They make their money by charging for a premium tier. I think it's cool.

      • jdawgnoonan

        I am using (and paying) for Neeva and it is really good. And the fact I don't have to scroll past a list of questionably related results that are ads before I get to what I was actually hunting for is worth the five dollars a month to me.