Google Topics API: The Fight for Advanced Cookieless Solutions in a Privacy Compliant Market

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By Subhag Oak, SVP of Product, Data and Intelligence, Amobee

As cookie depreciation bears down on the industry, an influx of cookieless targeting solutions are proliferating the marketplace, with the latest solution to be released being Google’s Topics API. While this new release has garnered a mix of reviews, with agencies and advertisers questioning if Topics API supports long-term activity in a privacy compliant manner, it also incites a broader question of how new cookie-less solutions will impact the advertising landscape. The pending removal of cookies will have profound ramifications on the practices of Internet users, publishers and advertisers alike.

Many companies are releasing solutions such as Google Topics API to future-proof themselves. However, there are many factors to consider when analyzing the efficiency & effectiveness of such solutions. The industry needs to explore the long-term implications of cookie-less practices that will surely alter the ad-tech world.

How Is Google Topics API Different From Its Predecessors?

This release comes on the heels of Google’s recent announcement sun-setting their previous replacement for third-party cookies, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) which grouped individual users into “cohorts” based on behaviors in relation to interests. FLoC was highly criticized throughout its development by tech providers, specifically other browsers and tech providers that would not support FLoC due to privacy concerns. In addition, FLoC did not align with GDPR in the EU.

Google has said, the difference between FLoC and Topics API is instead of a user being assigned to a single cohort, a user will only be assigned topics from a pool of about 300 total options, making it far more difficult to potentially identify individual users associated with a given topic.

Google Topics API leverages a user’s browser to identify topics of interest based on the user’s browser behaviors over a period of three weeks. By using browser history, the API then buckets the user into three major categories of interest out of a pool of 300 possible topics. According to Google, the topics marry the company’s proprietary taxonomy with the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Content Taxonomy V2.

For sites that Google has yet to categorize, basic machine learning algorithms will use the site’s domain name to make an estimate on topic classification. When a user reaches a site that supports Topics for ad purposes, the browser will pull three topics that the user is interested in from the past three weeks – chosen at random from the user’s top five topics each week and allow the website to share these topics with advertisers. The data can be used to help advertisers intelligently determine which ads to display, without allowing access to granular user data or identifiers. 

How the Market Views Google Topics API on the Privacy Compliant Spectrum

Initial reactions have been mixed. More agencies and advertisers will need to test for themselves to see if it’s truly a viable option for the long term and how Google will further support or if they will have to go back to the drawing board.

With the overall industry still processing the implications regarding cookie deprecation and what it means for their business and clients, any conclusion at this point would be premature. Over the next eleven months, you can expect to see an influx of cookie-less solutions being released across the ecosystem.

This presents a valuable opportunity for marketers to test and evaluate these new solutions to understand and identify which tactics best drive their strategies, as well as complements other targeting solutions such as Identity, for the cookie-less future.

Bridging The Gap Between Cookie-less Data and Privacy Compliance

Many advertisers have a long-standing history in contextual targeting solutions. This focus has taken priority within the last five years, especially. As cookies continue to depreciate, marketers will need to be more diversified in their targeting approach. There will not be a catch-all solution that replaces cookies for the long term. There are two solutions that enable agencies and advertisers to target audiences based on topical interests both for the present and future.

  • Topics AI which provides agencies and advertisers with a cookie-less targeting solution that leverages innovative AI to unlock media that resonates with your target in a privacy compliant manner.
  • Interest-Based Segments feature granular, deterministic interest segments with enhanced AI topic classification based on a user’s engagement with specific interest-based content to drive better connection with a target audience.

Agencies and advertisers will continue to monitor new cookie-less solutions being brought to market and provide competitive analysis that identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The end goal is to continue building out solutions and support a roadmap that provides marketers with innovative cookie-less targeting tactics that drive campaign performance across strategies and channels in a privacy compliant manner.

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