In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed millions of Facebook users’ information was being shared without their direct consent, the social network is preparing to answer tough questions about how it will handle user privacy in the future.
To that end, Facebook announced Tuesday its intention to build a tool called “Clear History” that will make it easier for users to delete their browsing data from Facebook’s servers.
One of the great criticisms of Facebook in the wake of the data privacy scandal has been that Facebook collects information about you, whether you’re using the service or not. Critics often point to the fact that the social network is able to track you on websites and apps around the web, thanks to Facebook’s software plugins that relay information from third parties back to Facebook.
The social network then uses that information for a variety of things, but the most important is clearly its ability to target users with ads. If you look at a shirt on J.Crew’s website, for example, you might end up seeing that shirt later while you’re browsing Facebook.
The clear history tool will disable this arguably creepy function. As described in the company’s announcement post, it will let users delete their entire browsing history from Facebook’s servers, and perhaps most importantly, it will feature an opt-out function, letting people ask for their data not to be collected in the first place.
Facebook says that your data may still be retained as part of an anonymous data set that can later be used for various analytics that companies pay for, but the data will not be linked to your personal account. Oddly enough, if you do not have a Facebook account, you will not be able to opt-out of this type of data collection. In other words, only people who have registered with Facebook can untether themselves from the company’s data collection, even though the social network can track non-users.
When users choose to “clear history,” the information will not be instantaneously deleted from Facebook’s servers, but rather, it will take a few days for the effects kick in. We expect to learn much more about this feature when Mark Zuckerberg takes the stage later today, as he mentioned in his own personal blog post about the tool.