This Is How Google Plans To Track You Now

Google's Privacy Sandbox – an initiative that claims to simultaneously protect users' online privacy while also providing businesses with the information needed for targeted advertising – is getting a new feature that supposedly improves the latter without compromising the former. It's called Topics, and according to Google, it's meant to keep track of your potential interests without actively tracking your activity. Kind of.

Topics will work with a web browser to look through your history and deduce a handful of "themes" (or topics) to use as your interests for the week. Google insists that this information will be kept only on the device itself, and will not be shared with external servers or third parties. Instead, websites that participate in Topics will be given just those predetermined topics to use and share with advertising partners to create targeted ads.

According to Google's description, the topics chosen by Topics will cycle over time, with each one expiring after a three-week period and being replaced with an updated topic determined by your browser. It also states that Topics will be curating your topics in order to exclude potentially sensitive subjects.

Though as Google points out, a website has to opt-in to using Topics and there's nothing preventing said site from sticking with other targeted ad generation methods like cookies and browser tracking.

What does this mean for users?

If you visit a website to book a hotel, it might create a "Travel & Transportation" topic. If you look at exercise equipment in an online shop, it may add "Fitness." Then when you visit a site that uses Topics (instead of standard cookies or browser tracking), your browser will pick three of your predetermined topics to send over.

Those three topics will then be used by the site and its advertising partners to generate targeted ads, just like what you're probably already used to seeing. Though in this case, who you are, your location, and your browsing history will not be included with this information.

While your personal details are kept under wraps, Google admits companies may still be able to connect the provided topics together to try and determine potentially sensitive information. By Google's own example, this means a company could still attempt to figure out race, gender identity, etc., even if that information isn't provided via Topics.

You'll also be able to view the topics that have been determined for you, and if you don't want any specific ones to be associated you can block them. Similarly, you'll be able to opt-out of Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative entirely in your Chrome settings.

There won't be a public launch of Topics for some time as Google says the technology is still in its very early stages, but it does intend to launch a developer trial in Chrome "soon."