01st October 2019
Facebook has launched its “clear history” feature more than a year after it was first promised by Mark Zuckerberg as part of damage control efforts after the Cambridge Analytica revelations.
The new feature, part of a wider set of tools covering “off-Facebook activity”, will not delete anything from Facebook’s servers, instead simply “disconnecting” data from an individual user’s account.
It is initially being rolled out in Ireland, Spain and South Korea, to be followed by a worldwide launch “over the coming months”.
The tool allows users to see for the first time the extent of Facebook’s tracking apparatus across the wider web, and gives them some power to control what the company learns about them from that surveillance.
Information is sent to the social network by other companies using a number of tools that Facebook makes available, including the Facebook Pixel, an invisible image included on some webpages, and Login with Facebook, which many apps and services use instead of creating their own login tools. The Guardian uses both these features on its own website and apps.
Previously it was impossible for users to see which companies had sent information to Facebook. The new tool shows users a list of businesses that have shared information with Facebook and details of how many times they have done so.
It also lets users take partial control of that information, “disconnecting” the shared activity from their account on a per app basis or entirely, and only in the past or permanently into the future.
Selecting the most thorough option will break the Login with Facebook feature, since it relies on the ability for apps to send information back and forth to the social network.
Despite the fact that the information is merely disconnected from a user’s account rather than being cleared entirely from Facebook’s servers, the company has labelled the button “clear history”.
Stephanie Max, a product manager at Facebook, said this decision was made so that “people were able to mentally connect that with how their browser controls work, where they can clear their history. We clearly state that … the information isn’t connected to your account.”
The new features will not be heavily promoted by Facebook. The company says users will be able to find the activity history, as well as the options to “clear” history, in the settings page of their Facebook app or on the website, but it will not be pushing the information to users on login.
Max acknowledged that widespread use of the clear history feature could have an impact on revenue from advertisers, given how important the web history is to successful targeting on the Facebook platform. But she highlighted that Facebook was the first online advertising company to offer such a feature. “This will hopefully start a broader conversation around this particular practice,” she said.
Zuckerberg first promised a clear history tool in May 2018, telling attenders at the company’s F8 conference that it would “be a simple control to clear your browsing history on Facebook – what you’ve clicked on, websites you’ve visited and so on”.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010