In light of data breaches and information leakages and general user wariness, Facebook has been working to reestablish trust among its users and introduce features to further protect privacy. One such measure, announced last year, involves Facebook potentially rolling out a “clear history” tool as soon as this year. “But you can already clear search history on Facebook,” you say, and you are correct, you little Facebook lurker you. However, this “clear history” tool applies to the history Facebook has on you.
Let’s backtrack a bit: Facebook is able to track your habits and history not only on its website but across any website with an embedded Facebook tracker. This includes many major websites, essentially any website with a “Like” and “Share” button. This data collection applies to people who aren’t even on Facebook, creating what’s known as “shadow profiles” that advertisers are able to access and utilize. Enter the “clear history feature.”
After multiple delays, Facebook’s “clear history” feature seems to slowly but surely be happening. On Tuesday, as New York Magazine’s Intelligencer notes, Facebook shared a blog post titled, “What Businesses Should Know About the Upcoming Tool for Managing Off-Facebook Activity.” Given that Facebook boasts $16.6 billion in ad revenue (which is roughly 99% of their revenue) this warning to advertisers may mean the “clear history” features is actually coming.
Here’s what a portion of the blog post states:
“This feature may impact targeting. When someone disconnects their off-Facebook activity, we won’t use the data they clear for targeting. This means that targeting options powered by Facebook’s business tools, like the Facebook pixel, can’t be used to reach someone with ads. This includes Custom Audiences built from visitors to websites or apps. Businesses should keep this in mind when developing strategies for these kinds of campaigns in the second half of the year and beyond.”
Facebook also notes that “Giving people transparency and control is good for businesses” and “We’re showing people how advertisers use our tools.” Basically, Facebook is giving a heads up to advertisers that they may not have as robust a profile on its consumers. “We're working hard to deliver this transparency on Facebook,” the post states, dropping that “transparency” buzzword again, also noting, “We encourage businesses to start thinking about ways to educate their customers about their marketing practices.”
To reiterate, Facebook makes a lot of money from ads and Facebook just posted an update giving advertisers a heads up on this potential new transparency-focused feature. However, it is also worth noting that the “clear history” tool is not mentioned by name in the post. (Probably because the name is more appealing to users than the companies who benefit from said history.)
This announcement comes in the aftermath of last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, which exposed the assertion that Facebook users’ private data was mined without permission.
If you want to see just how much and what kind of your information is Facebook collects, you can use the Download Your Information tool. This allows you to see a handy-dandy zip file of everything Facebook knows about you, from your Likes to your photos to the video messages you forgot you left on your college roommate’s boyfriend’s wall in 2010.
What’s interesting is the “clear history” tool is not a “delete history” tool. “Using the feature will disassociate browsing data that Facebook collects from your specific account but it won’t be erased from Facebook’s servers completely,” David Baser, the head of Facebook’s newly created privacy product team, said last year per Vox.
The “clear history” tool still does not have a concrete release date, but Facebook’s latest blog post says it will be rolling out “in the coming months.”