Facebook delivers ‘clear history’ tool that doesn’t ‘clear’ anything

Post-Cambridge Analytica/Cubeyou/et al. privacy-stress disorder, privacy advocates, members of Congress and users told Facebook that we wanted more than the ability to see what it has on us.

We wanted a Clear button. We wanted the ability to wipe out the data Facebook has on us – to nuke it to kingdom come. We wanted this many moons ago, and that’s kind of, sort of what Facebook promised us, in May 2018, that we’d be getting within a “few months.”

Well, it’s 15 months later, and we’re finally getting what Facebook promised: not the ability to nuke all that tracking data to kingdom come, which it never actually intended to create, but rather the ability to “disconnect” data from an individual user’s account.

The browsing history data that Facebook collects on us when we visit other sites will live on, as it won’t be deleted from Facebook’s servers. As privacy experts have pointed out, you won’t be able to delete that data, but you will be getting new ways to control it.

Facebook announced the new set of tools, which it’s calling Off-Facebook Activity and which includes the Clear History feature, on Tuesday.

Facebook Chief Privacy Officer of Policy Erin Egan and Director of Product Management David Baser said in a Facebook newsroom post that the new tools should help to shed light on all the third-party apps, sites, services, and ad platforms that track our web activity via Facebook’s various trackers.

Those trackers include Facebook Pixel: a tiny but powerful snippet of code embedded on many third-party sites that Facebook has lauded as a clever way to serve targeted ads to people, including non-members. Another tool in Facebook’s tracking arsenal is Login with Facebook, which many apps and services use instead of creating their own login tools.

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It’s tough for users to keep track of it all, the Facebookers said:

Given that the average person with a smartphone has more than 80 apps and uses about 40 of them every month, it can be really difficult for people to keep track of who has information about them and what it’s used for.

So as of Tuesday, we’ve got Off-Facebook Activity to help. It lets users see a summary of the apps and websites that track you online and back to Facebook. You can “clear” the information from your account if you want to, Facebook says, which is “another way to give people more transparency and control on Facebook,” along with recent updates to Ad Library, updates to “Why am I seeing this ad?” and the launch of a new feature called “Why am I seeing this post?”.

Using the Clear History tool, you can “disconnect” that data from your Facebook account. Doing so will mean that the company will no longer be able to use that information for targeted ads, including on its other products, such as Instagram or Messenger.

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