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Facebook to introduce Clear History privacy tool in coming months

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Mark Zuckerberg Delivers Keynote Address At Facebook F8 Conference Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Before taking the stage at Facebook’s F8 conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made one announcement ahead of time: the social network is adding a new feature called Clear History. It will be introduced alongside Facebook’s existing options for privacy control. “In your web browser, you have a simple way to clear your cookies and history. The idea is a lot of sites need cookies to work, but you should still be able to flush your history whenever you want,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We’re building a version of this for Facebook too. It will be a simple control to clear your browsing history on Facebook — what you’ve clicked on, websites you’ve visited, and so on.”

The first application of Clear History is directly tied to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “Once we roll out this update, you’ll be able to see information about the apps and websites you’ve interacted with, and you’ll be able to clear this information from your account. You’ll even be able to turn off having this information stored with your account.” Facebook has announced numerous steps in recent weeks — directed at both everyday users and developers — meant to prevent third parties from gleaning an abundance of personal data from unknowing users.

But Facebook seems to think that having information about your activity and likes are critical to providing a good end user experience. Zuckerberg says as much later in his post. “To be clear, when you clear your cookies in your browser, it can make parts of your experience worse. You may have to sign back in to every website, and you may have to reconfigure things. The same will be true here.” The CEO flatly warns that “your Facebook won’t be as good while it relearns your preferences.” That’s likely to draw some groans from users and privacy advocates.

Unfortunately, Facebook claims it’s going to take “a few months” to build and release Clear History. In a separate blog post on the feature, VP and chief privacy officer Erin Egan says “we’ll work with privacy advocates, academics, policymakers and regulators to get their input on our approach, including how we plan to remove identifying information and the rare cases where we need information for security purposes.”

“After going through our systems, this is an example of the kind of control we think you should have,” Zuckerberg wrote. “One thing I learned from my experience testifying in Congress is that I didn’t have clear enough answers to some of the questions about data. We’re working to make sure these controls are clear, and we will have more to come soon.”