A Quantitative Information Flow Analysis of the Topics API


Third-party cookies have been a privacy concern since cookies were first developed in the mid 1990s, but more strict cookie policies were only introduced by Internet browser vendors in the early 2010s. More recently, due to regulatory changes, browser vendors have started to completely block third-party cookies, with both Firefox and Safari already compliant. The Topics API is being proposed by Google as an additional and less intrusive source of information for interest-based advertising (IBA), following the upcoming deprecation of third-party cookies. Initial results published by Google estimate the probability of a correct re-identification of a random individual would be below 3% while still supporting IBA. In this paper, we analyze the re-identification risk for individual Internet users introduced by the Topics API from the perspective of Quantitative Information Flow (QIF), an information- and decision-theoretic framework. Our model allows a theoretical analysis of both privacy and utility aspects of the API and their trade-off, and we show that the Topics API does have better privacy than third-party cookies. We leave the utility analyses for future work.

Proceedings of the 22nd Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society
Gabriel H. Nunes
Gabriel H. Nunes
PhD candidate in Computer Science

Physicist and Computer Scientist