Commentary

Off-Facebook Activity Feature Lets Certain Users Clear Accounts Of Histories

Hampering its own ad-targeting abilities, Facebook is moving ahead with plans to let some users detach their accounts from their app and Web histories.

The news comes more than a year after Facebook teased a Clear History feature, which it said would let users block the company from correlating data collected throughout the web -- via its “Like” button -- with their accounts.

The original announcement came as Facebook was still reeling from the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, and mounting pressure over its privacy practices.

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As part of what it’s calling an “Off-Facebook Activity” initiative, the tech titan will now let certain users see a summary of the apps and websites that send it information about their activity, as well as clear this information from their accounts.

Initially, the Off-Facebook Activity feature will only be available to users in Ireland, South Korea and Spain, but company executives promise a broader rollout in the not-too-distant future.

“We will continue to roll it out everywhere over the coming months to help ensure it’s working reliably for everyone,” Erin Egan and David Baser, Chief Privacy Officer and director of product management at Facebook, said in a joint statement on Tuesday.

Facebook is not saying when U.S. users can expect access, but industry leaders say it can’t come fast enough.

“It’s an educational tool that can help teach people to navigate both the pleasures and perils of the vital technology we call the internet,” stated Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

According to Rothenberg, the Off-Facebook Activity feature is exactly what the industry needs more of: “regulation and self-regulation … safety, security, knowledge, transparency and control.”

As for why it took Facebook so long to launch its Clear History tool, Egan previously blamed it on unexpected technical challenges.

With countless ad dollars on the line, chances are that Facebook will caution users about the downside of overusing its new Off-Facebook Activity feature. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did exactly that when he first unveiled the feature last year.

“To be clear, when you clear your cookies in your browser, it can make parts of your experience worse,” Zuckerberg warned in a post. “You may have to sign back in to every website, and you may have to reconfigure things. The same will be true here. Your Facebook won’t be as good while it relearns your preferences.”
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