This week, Facebook is holding its annual F8 developer conference, which means we’re going to hear a heap about new projects and tools on the way, and the latest on their initiatives to improve privacy and boost community engagement.
On the latter, Facebook has announced an important, and much requested, new feature to give users more control over how their Facebook data is used – the option to totally delete your browsing history.
As explained by Facebook:
“Today, we’re announcing plans to build Clear History. This feature will enable you to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, delete this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward.”
While Facebook has been working to introduce new privacy tools and measures in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, many users have noted that actually deleting Facebook entirely is not that simple – particularly given Facebook is able to track even non-users through their activity on sites which use Facebook’s Pixel and other data-tracking measures. This new tool won’t necessarily stop that, but it will give users an easier way to remove their browsing history from Facebook’s servers, which, the company says, will ensure there’s no connection between your account and any such data.
“If you clear your history or use the new setting, we’ll remove identifying information so a history of the websites and apps you’ve used won’t be associated with your account. We’ll still provide apps and websites with aggregated analytics – for example, we can build reports when we’re sent this information so we can tell developer if their apps are more popular with men or women in a certain age group. We can do this without storing the information in a way that’s associated with your account, and as always, we don’t tell advertisers who you are.”
It’s another measure to help reassure users that their data is safe, or at least within their control, and that Facebook isn’t merely looking to build as big a data profile as possible on every individual, in order to sell more ads.
Of course, it kind of is, and really, given the low take up of their other data control measures, it’s a fairly safe bet for the platform – while Facebook might give you the option to delete your browsing history, most people won’t take them up on it. But the option exists – you can’t complain about tracking when you have the opportunity to switch it off.
Facebook says it will take “a few months” to build their Clear History tool, and that they’ll be working with privacy advocates, academics, policymakers and regulators to get their input on the best approach.
It’s a smart move from The Social Network, adding to their data tools, and putting more onus on users to take them up.