Facebook had announced that it would let users sever the connection between their web browsing history and Facebook accounts for nearly a year and a half ago. The feature has finally been rolled out to three countries – Ireland, South Korea, and Spain and Facebook have said that they will be adding more countries to the list in the coming months.
This Facebook Clear History tool was created in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal to give users more control over their data privacy at “the expense of advertisers’ targeting capabilities”.
As and when Facebook’s Clear History arrives in your country, it will be a part of a new section called “Off-Facebook activity”. When you access this section you will be able to see the apps and websites that are tracking your activity and sending reports to Facebook for ad targeting purposes.
Once you tap on Clear History you can dissociate that information from your Facebook account. And that’s not all, you can also block companies from sending this tracking data to Facebook in the future. You have the choice of disconnecting all off-Facebook browsing data or pick specific apps and websites.
Facebook has warned that when you access the Off-Facebook activity section you will see apps and websites that you do not recognize and have not visited. These, in all probabilities, are sites/apps that a friend might have looked up on your phone or have turned up on the list because you share your home computer with family.
So when is it coming to your country? Facebook has said that this product is being rolled out slowly to “help ensure it’s working reliably for everyone”.
The Clear History tool has been a long time coming but was held up due to a number of unexpected delays. Facebook’s Head of Privacy Products David Baser told Recode that the technical delays were related to how Facebook stores user data on its servers.
According to Baser, Facebook data is not stored the same way it is collected – when the social media site collected web browsing data it contains multiple parts like personal information, website visited and time stamp for when the data was collected. All of these different things are separately stored in different parts of the Facebook system. When you try to clean them all, they all have to be found and that is a challenge.
Also, Facebook stores browsing data by date and time, not by which user it belongs to. That means there was no easy way within Facebook’s system to see all the browsing data linked to an individual user. To make the new privacy tool work, Facebook had to build a new system that stored browsing data categorized at the user level.
“That was not very simple, actually, in practice for us to build,” Baser said.
“Since Off-Facebook Activity is a new kind of tool, there was no template for us to follow. Our engineering teams redesigned our systems and built a new way for them to process information. We also conducted months of research to get input from people, privacy advocates, policymakers, advertisers and industry groups. We made important changes in response to what we learned,” Facebook said in a blog post.
How to find and manage your off-Facebook data
You can find the new Off-Facebook Activity tab under Settings > Your Facebook Data > Off-Facebook Activity. The tab exists in the same place for both mobile and desktop users.
The Off-Facebook Activity menu lists which connected apps and websites are sending data to Facebook and includes several options for managing said data:
- To Facebook from associating its data with the data, it receives from a specific app at some future point, tap or clicks it in the list then scroll down and select “Turn off future activity.” You can also use the “Give feedback about this activity” link to report any concerns you may have about an app’s activity tracking.
- “Download your information” lets you save an offline report of all previously tracked data up to now.
There are also options to disassociate Facebook’s data with third-party data and block this connection from being made going forward if you prefer.
- “Clear history” breaks the link between Facebook’s data and the data it receives from third-party apps and websites. The latter doesn’t go away; it just isn’t connected to your Facebook account per se. (You’ll still probably be fingerprinted around the web, don’t worry.)
- “Manage future activity” lets you quickly make sweeping changes to how Facebook treats the data it receives from all apps—even those you may sync in the future.
The company added that they plan to continue building similar tools to reorient its focus around privacy.
(With inputs from hindustantimes)