After first being announced in May 2018, Facebook rolled out its new Clear History tool last week to users in Ireland, South Korea and Spain. Following on from the Cambridge Analytica scandal the tool, dubbed “Off-Facebook activity”, has been designed to give users more transparency and control over their data privacy.
How Does it Work?
When a user goes to Off-Facebook activity they will be able to see a list of websites and apps that are tracking their activity, providing Facebook information to use for ad targeting. All the user needs to do is tap the “clear history” next to the app or website. Tapping this will disconnect these companies from their account, stopping Facebook from tracking their data.
As soon as the user has cleared history, Facebook will cease to identify any information about that user and will not use their data on targeted ads on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger.
What Kind of Impact Will This Have?
A clear history tool has of course rung alarm bells for most social media marketers. Surely users having the option to clear their history will have a detrimental effect on marketing activities? As Nissa Anklesaria (Director of Corporate Communications, Facebook) stated: “If a person uses the control, we will disconnect the data from their account, and it cannot be used to target ads… So people will see less relevant ads, and the business will likely see less ROI from their ads.”
Some disagree with this, believing that the new tool won’t have much of an impact on Facebook ads. Firstly, Facebook won’t be promoting the release of the new feature too much by not presenting the users with this information when they log-in. It is also unclear how popular the tool will be at this stage.
In May this year, Facebook stated in a blog that they will still provide “accurate measurement to help businesses understand the impact of their Facebook investment”. This could mean that users who clear their history will no longer have certain companies tracking them, but they won’t necessarily see fewer ads. This is because they will still be tracking user interactions anonymously, allowing this information to be used for ad targeting.
According to Jason Helfstein, an analyst at Oppenheimer, people are looking for a customised experience on Facebook. In addition, Facebook’s engagement levels have been unaffected by other privacy concerns, such as the mishandling of user data and fake news activity.
However, while Facebook will “clear history” it won’t delete anything from Facebook’s servers as it is only disconnecting the data, not deleting it. Instead, it is simply anonymising the information that it has collected on the user.
Delayed in the US
There is no set date for a US release yet, but it has come to light that there is a delay due to concerns relating to a current trial. Although there is no set release date, it has been postponed until at least the 30th August 2019 at the request of a woman who is suing Facebook for failing to prevent traffickers for targeting her when she was a teenager. Having a clear history option on Facebook raised concerns at this trial as it would allow the offender to clear his data, making it impossible to prosecute them.
It is unclear if this case will raise further questions on the new feature or result in further delays for release.
Over the coming months, Facebook will be monitoring and analysing the user activity of those who have access to the tool so that they can fine-tune it for a wider role out. We don’t know how long this will be. It could be anything from a few months to a year before we see any advancements or further roll outs of the Off-Facebook activity tool. When they do, we’ll be sure to keep you updated here!