Facebook's long-promised 'Clear History' tool is coming, despite it seemingly dropping off the radar since it was first announced at the company's F8 developer conference early last year.
The Clear History tool, announced in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, will give Facebook users more control over their personal data, and how it's used for ad targeting, with the capacity to view which apps and websites are using Facebook tracking, and clear that information from your profile, if you so wish.
Now, the tool is moving closer - so close in fact that Facebook has issued a preemptive outline for advertisers to help them prepare for the potential changes that could come about as a result of this new capacity.
Over on the Facebook Business blog, the company has explained the pending update, and its potential impacts.
As explained by Facebook:
"In the coming months, we'll begin rolling out a tool that lets people see and manage their off-Facebook activity. Mark Zuckerberg announced this feature last year, and it's designed to give people more transparency and control over the data other apps and websites share with us. This will include a list of the apps and websites someone visits that use our business tools such as the Facebook pixel, SDK and API. We've had conversations along the way with businesses, agencies and industry bodies to get a sense of things advertisers will want to know in preparation, and we put together a list of four important points for you to keep in mind as the feature rolls out."
The accompanying post outlines how "giving people transparency and control is good for business" and notes that, despite the changes, Facebook's audience measurement tools and data will remain intact.
"Facebook's measurement and analytics tools have been carefully designed to protect people's identity. We never share anyone's personal information, such as names or phone numbers, in our measurement and reporting tools. We don't anticipate changes to measurement once this feature is live."
But there will be changes to audience tracking. The most pressing point for marketers in the announcement is this:
"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."
That, potentially, could be a significant blow for marketers, with the capacity to build accurate audiences for ad targeting diminished if a significant amount of users opt to remove data tracking.
But that is a significant 'if'. As we've seen with various other Facebook privacy and data tools, most users don't actually change such settings, despite the options being available. Case in point - in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica story breaking, Facebook noted repeatedly that it hadn't seen “any meaningful impact” on user behavior as a result of the revelations, despite the flood of negative press and various surveys indicating trust in the company had dropped.
That's not to say it had no impact - reports have also indicated that users are sharing a lot less content to Facebook, and fewer personal updates specifically, with many conversations switching to more private, enclosed spaces. The impact in that regard is much harder to measure - but even if that is the case, that doesn't suggest that those users are going to suddenly lockdown their data as soon as the new option becomes available.
People are clearly - and rightfully - concerned about data misuse. But not so much that they're seeking out ways to do anything about it. While Facebook is right to warn advertisers of the potential impacts in this regard, we won't know the reality of such until it's actually rolled out, until the tool is launched and we understand how many people are actually using it.
It could be significant - hence Facebook's warning - but it'll likely be limited. Data tracking will be impacted to some degree, but it's unlikely to become a useless option, Custom Audiences are still probably going to be a key targeting tool for Facebook ads.
But it is, most definitely, an area to watch.