Facebook Will Let You Stop It From Collecting Your Internet Browsing Habits

Mark Zuckerberg announced a new tool that will let Facebook users clear their web browsing history, and opt out of future tracking.

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May 1 2018, 7:19pm

Facebook users will soon be able to clear their web browsing history, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

This new feature, called “Clear History,” is significant—the company leverages people’s data to sell targeted ads, whether they have a Facebook account or not—and may narrow the scope of information that Facebook is allowed to collect.

Users will reportedly be able to clear their “Off-Facebook History” and stop Facebook from gathering it at all.

Facebook’s tracking cookies and social plugins on third-party sites send it information about users and non-users alike, which it retains. The company’s trackers, according to search engine DuckDuckGo, are on 24 percent of the web’s top million sites. Facebook also buys information from data brokers to enhance its own data collection, according to an investigation by ProPublica.

Facebook says the feature will work retroactively, meaning users can clear their historical data. “We’re still building the feature now and will have more to share soon,” a Facebook spokesperson told Motherboard.

But some data will remain. Facebook will continue to provide aggregated user data to apps and sites, though the information won’t be stored in a way that’s tied to anyone’s account, it claims.

When I asked Facebook to explain the difference between analytics and targeting, and provide a use case for both, a spokesperson sent me this “Hard Questions” blog post which only defines analytics as helping “websites and apps better understand how people use their services.”

“For example, we can build reports when we’re sent this information so we can tell developer [sic] if their apps are more popular with men or women in a certain age group,” Erin Egan, Facebook VP and Chief Privacy Officer, wrote in a blog post today.

Zuckerberg shared more details today at F8, the company’s annual developer conference, claiming that, after clearing cookies, “your Facebook won’t be quite as good while it relearns your preferences.

“After going through our systems, this is the kind of control we think people should have,” Zuckerberg added while the audience clapped.

Facebook recently tweaked the usability of its privacy settings, which entailed making it easier for people to find and download their own data. The changes anticipated Europe’s new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) privacy law that gives people more control over their personal data.

When Zuckerberg testified before Congress last month, he was asked by Rep. Jerry McNerney about Facebook’s “Download your information” tool.

“Well my staff, just this morning,” McNerney said, “downloaded their information and their browsing history is not in it. So are you saying that Facebook does not have browsing history?”

To which Zuckerberg replied: “Congressman that would be correct. If we don’t have content in there then that means that you don’t have it on Facebook. Or you haven’t put it there.”

As pointed out by Techcrunch, Zuckerberg’s tactical answer ignored the copious off-site data that Facebook harvests—afterall, Facebook has long avoided publicly reckoning with how much it knows about you. He later clarified that “weblogs” are not downloadable.

“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,” Zuckerberg wrote today. “We're working to make sure these controls are clear, and we will have more to come soon.”