Google announces next stage of privacy sandbox testing

privacy sandbox
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Google is setting up the next stage of Privacy Sandbox testing, including the Topics API, its proposed replacement for third-party cookies. It hopes successful tests will convince the publishing industry to adopt the new online ad targeting solution before it stops supporting third-party cookies in its Chrome browser next year.

  • In a post on the Chromium blog, Privacy Sandbox product director Vinay Goel has said that Chrome is starting the next stage of testing for the Privacy Sandbox ads relevance and measurement proposals. That means developers globally are now able to test a series of APIs in the Canary version of Chrome.
  • As part of the program, Google will allow third-party developers to test code for the interest-based Topics API. Participants can also test Google’s proposals for managing ad auctions and ad retargeting known as FLEDGE. Developers will also be able to trial the Attribution Reporting API.
  • The Chrome team hopes that companies will provide feedback from various testing phases. Once they are confident that the APIs are working as intended, they will be made more broadly available in Chrome. Developers interested in learning more about the APIs and participating in testing should review the detailed developer guidance. Goel said:

The Privacy Sandbox proposals have already benefited substantially from the thoughtful feedback of early testers, and we’re eager to open up testing for more of our proposals.

  • The Privacy Sandbox is an initiative led by Google that seeks to create web standards for accessing user information without compromising privacy. Its central aim is to facilitate online advertising without the use of third-party cookies.
  • The Topics API is described by AdExchanger as “take two” for Google. The Topics solution replaced Google’s FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) API after it stalled over privacy concerns.
  • Topics, and FLoCs before it, support interest-based advertising. The approach replaces the individual tracking and targeting delivered by cookies with a solution driven by browser activity. Ads will be targeted according to user interest inferred from site visits and categorisation of domains.
Weak industry support

The big worry for Google – facing a self-imposed third-party cookie deadline next year – is that publishers remain highly skeptical both on the privacy front and there are worries on the advertising side that the limited number of categories returned by the Topics API will make targeting categories too broad to be useful.

Feedback that Digiday has received express concerns that FLEDGE gives Google too much control over ad auctions and that Topics still doesn’t offer users enough privacy.

An anonymous source at a prominent multinational publisher told Digiday the Topics API would not ‘pass muster’ given likely privacy clampdowns from international governments. They said:

Topics still relies on this idea of cross-domain targeting and I don’t think that’s something we should be doing anymore.

On the ad side, initially there will only be about 350 broadly defined categories in the Topics API’s taxonomy. With categories like travel, sports, books, auto, music and fitness, Adexchanger suggests someone in the market for a pole vault could be in the same segment as an NHL fan.

Joshua Koran, EVP of data and policy at Criteo, told Adexchanger:

If every sports marketer in the world is using the sports topic, it’s hard to imagine that’s going to provide good results relative to what they can do today.

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