Google plans to release a new stable version of the company’s Chrome web browser later today. Chrome 101 was released four weeks after the last version of Chrome was released, which was Chrome 100.
The new version isn’t particularly exciting when it comes to the new features that Google is introducing to it. Chrome’s status page only lists a few of them, and the majority of the features listed on the page are only of interest to developers.
Controversial ad API trials begin
Two features that many Chrome users might be interested in are not listed on the page. These may not be listed because they are run as in-browser trials. So-called Origin Trials introduce features in Chrome to a subset of users, often to give developers access to those features to implement and test services.
Both features, Topics API and First “Locally-Executed Decision over Groups” Experiment (FLEDGE), run as native trials in Chrome 101 through 104 on the desktop.
To better understand what they do, it is necessary to look back at the development of Google’s privacy sandbox initiative and the intention to remove third-party cookies from the Internet. Google’s main source of revenue comes from advertising, and the removal of third-party cookies poses a threat to its core business. Google is now able to come up with something equally lucrative and at the same time less invasive when it comes to user privacy on the Internet.
Google’s first attempt to establish a replacement was called FLoC. Announced several years ago, FLoC, or Federated Learning of Cohorts, moved tracking from individual users to groups of users. Many companies and organizations, including Brave, DuckDuckGo, and Vivaldi, have criticized FLoC and announced that they will block it in their browsers and products.
Critics have focused on several basic objections:
- With FLoC in place, sites would be aware of a user’s group interests, even if the site was never visited by the particular user.
- FLoC adds another bit of data to fingerprinting. Since a FLoC is made up of a few thousand users, it is a small group and as such ideal for fingerprinting.
- Google monitors sensitive topics, which are not included in the areas of interest disclosed to sites and advertisers.
Google abandoned FLoC in early 2022 and announced that it would instead use Topics for its future cookieless advertising system. Topics run locally in the web browser. The API uses algorithms to determine topics of interest based on the user’s browsing history. Interest is stored locally in the browser for three weeks. When a user visits a site, three of the interests are revealed to the site in question and its advertising partners.
FLEDGE, First “Locally-Executed Decision over Groups” Experiment, is the second advertising technique that Google is testing in Chrome versions 101-104. The technique moves “the data of interest and the final advertising decision” to the local browser. Google hopes the technique will address key privacy concerns while providing advertisers with enough data to display ads that may be of interest to users.
The subjects and FLEDGE are also not without criticism. Both do not address the issue of selecting sensitive topics. A Microsoft Edge developer released a short script in mid-2021 that could be used for cross-site tracking with FLEDGE.
Chrome 101 will launch later today.
Now you: What do you think of these new techniques?