Google Chrome persists with targeted ads that use browser history


Google has slowly been rolling out its Enhanced Ad Privacy functionality in Chrome.

This technology allows websites to serve ads based on your browser history – unless you manually turn it off.

Why we care. Some folks are worried that this tech might invade their privacy. More and more people are speaking up, saying they don’t like the idea of their online actions being watched for ads. Using this method could harm a brand’s image, so it might be a good idea to look into other options that won’t upset your potential target audience.

The roll-out. People started receiving popups about this new feature in July following the release of Chrome 115 – which supports Google’s Topics API (part of its Privacy Sandbox project). However, recently, an increasing number of people have reported seeing the popup because those who don’t like Chrome mining their browsing history for Google’s ads have been speaking out.

How it works. Instead of tracking your interests through cookies and the websites you visit, websites can directly ask Chrome what you’re interested in using its Topics JavaScript API.

Chrome figures out your interests by studying your browsing history. For example, if you often visit financial websites, Chrome might label one of your interests as “investing”.

When a website checks with the Topics API, it can learn about your interests and show you ads related to it, like bonds or retirement funds. This way, websites can get your online interests directly from your browser.

The technology has been rolling this out to a small percentage of Chrome users at a time, so you might not have seen it or been notified yet. How Google asks for your agreement on this ad targeting depends on where you live and the local laws.


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What has Google said? A Google spokesperson said in a statement:

  • “With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like fitness or travel and transportation, that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history. Topics are kept for only three weeks and old topics are deleted.”
  • “Topics are selected entirely on your device without involving any external servers, including Google servers. When you visit a participating site, Topics picks just three topics, one topic from each of the past three weeks, to share with the site and its advertising partners.”
  • “Topics enables browsers to give you meaningful transparency and control over this data, and in Chrome, we’re building user controls that let you see the topics, remove any you don’t like or disable the feature completely.”

Deep dive. Read Google’s Topics API for Privacy Sandbox guide for more information.

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