“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.”
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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.