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Maya Schadeck


Cookieless Tracking: The Impact of API on Publishers

January 2024 marked a milestone in (cookieless) tracking with Google’s long-expected purge of third-party cookies. You may ask why? The answer is, Google turned off cookies for 1% of Chrome users, amounting to roughly 30 million users.  

In a world full of data privacy regulations and  outphasing third-party cookies publishers are exploring alternatives to deliver personalized content. One solution publishers may turn to is the Topics API which is a Google initiative and part of Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

The Topics API might help publishers to personalize content and at the same time address privacy concerns. So, let’s dive into the Topics API and see how publishers can thrive in a cookieless world.

What is cookieless tracking?

Before delving into the specifics of the Topics API, let’s pause for a moment and  grasp the significance of cookieless tracking in today’s digital landscape. Traditionally, third-party cookies have been a staple tool to enable the customization of ads based on the user’s browsing history. 

However, concerns over user privacy and data protection have prompted regulatory changes. The result is that leading major browsers, like Google, are phasing out support for third-party cookies. Now, cookieless tracking offers a way to customize ads when a user rejects cookie consent or cookies are not supported. 

Meaning, instead of relying on third-party cookies, a cookieless tracking solution enables publishers to customize ads for users who visit a website by using scripts that only run when the users are browsing this website.

What is the Topics API?

As third-party cookies are going away, the Topics API promises to be a solution for customizing ads. But what does the Topics API actually include? The Topics API is a Privacy Sandbox mechanism designed to preserve privacy while allowing a browser to share information with third parties about a user’s preferences. 

So, the Topics API analyzes the content of web pages to infer user interests and preferences. By categorizing content, publishers can reach relevant audiences based on contextually relevant interests, rather than relying on third-party cookies. Thus, the Topics API provides contextual targeting capabilities without compromising user privacy by enabling interest-based advertising (IBA). 

IBA is the main concept in the Topics API and a form of personalized advertising so to speak in which an ad is chosen for a user based on their interests based on the websites they’ve been recently browsing.

What is the Protected Audience API?

Just like the Topics API, the Protected Audience AI is a privacy Sandbox technology and complementary to the Topics API. Together they create the full Privacy Sandbox Solution. The Protected Audience API enables on-device auctions by the browser to enable sites to display ads that are relevant to their respective target audience. 


That’s how it looks: when a user visits a site that wants to advertise its product, he’ll be asked to add a membership for an interest group. If the request is successful, the browser records the following:

  • The name of the interest group: for example, ‘basketball-shoes’.
  • The owner of the interest group: for example, ‘https://ssp.example’.
  • Interest group configuration information to allow the browser to access bidding code, ad code, and real-time data, if the group’s owner is invited to bid in an ad auction.

Cookieless tracking: implications for publishers

For publishers, the adoption of cookieless tracking technologies like the Topics API presents both opportunities and challenges. By aligning ad placements with the thematic content of their websites, publishers can offer advertisers highly relevant inventory without relying on invasive tracking methods. This means, the emphasis on contextual relevance could enhance the user experience by delivering ads that are more aligned with the content users are consuming.

However, the transition to cookieless tracking also poses challenges for publishers, including limitations on accurately optimizing ad placements. Meaning, the reliance on contextual targeting may require publishers to rethink their content strategies and prioritize topics that align with advertiser demand. 

Publishers, who want to future-proof their businesses must adapt to the shift towards cookieless tracking and explore innovative strategies. Embracing technologies like the Topics API, ID5 ID, Unified ID 2.0, Ramp ID, and many more, present an opportunity to maintain relevance in a privacy-conscious era while continuing to monetize digital content effectively. 


Adapting to the changing landscape

The farewell of third-party cookies and the introduction of cookieless tracking technologies like the Topics API, offers both opportunities and challenges for publishers. Let’s look at the opportunities: new emerging formats tend to fill a vacuum. In this case, the lack of customized targeting, which suggests that innovations and new solutions might be able to fill these. 

Publishers need to make sure that they understand the implications of these developments and proactively adapt to the changing landscape that sets them up for success in an increasingly privacy-focused environment.

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