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Facebook’s promised Clear History privacy tool to launch later this year following delay

Facebook’s promised Clear History privacy tool to launch later this year following delay


The company says the feature will harm its ability to target users with ads

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Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

Facebook’s long-awaited Clear History tool, a privacy feature the social network says will let you wipe information the social network collects about you from third-party apps and websites, is now scheduled to come out later this year, chief financial officer David Wehner told the crowd at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference. Wehner’s comments were first reported by CNBC this morning.

The Clear History tool was promised in May of last year, just before the company’s F8 developer conference, and at that point was still just an idea designed to earn back lost user trust, BuzzFeed News reported in an investigation on Clear History’s rocky development published last week. At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg described the tool as working similarly to one’s browser history and a step forward in helping the company repair its image following the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal.

Facebook originally said last May that the tool would launch within a few months

“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. 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,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook note posted to his personal page. “We’re starting with something a lot of people have asked about recently: the information we see from websites and apps that use Facebook’s ads and analytics tools.”

It’s not entirely clear how exactly this would work or what the tool might actually look like. But through Facebook’s analytics tools and trackers, the company collects a massive amount of information about what you do both on the site and outside it. So a tool like Clear History could have a substantial impact on Facebook’s ability to target ads and generate revenue if enough users actively remove the information collected about their online activity.

Wehner said as much at the conference today. “Broadly, [the tool is] going to give us some headwinds in terms of being able to target as effectively as before,” he said. Facebook already gives users some control over how information about them on the site can be used to inform the ads they see, including whether advertisers can target you based on information it gathers from third-party partners. Facebook also lets you control whether you see ads related to marriage, alcohol, or your relationship status, among other options.

“We want to make sure this works the way it should for everyone on Facebook.”

A number of changes to how third-party apps gain access to your personal information were put in place last year following Cambridge Analytica. The tool would go one step further than existing options in giving users more transparency around what is collected about them, which sites and apps are collecting it, and whether they want to remove it entirely from the Facebook ecosystem.

But despite the impact it may have on Facebook’s ad business — and the company line is likely still that your Facebook “experience” will suffer by not having relevant ads shown to you. But Zuckerberg clearly sees the tool as necessary to win back user trust. “After going through our systems, this is an example of the kind of control we think you should have,” he wrote in his announcement post on Clear History. “It’s something privacy advocates have been asking for — and we will work with them to make sure we get it right.”

According to BuzzFeed News, Facebook plans to begin testing the tool this spring. In a statement given to the publication last week, Facebook said, “We want to make sure this works the way it should for everyone on Facebook, which is taking longer than expected.”