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Facebook will let users opt out of sharing the browsing history data it uses to sell ads


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

May 1, 2018 | 5 min read

Facebook is building a tool that will let its users opt out of giving the platform permission to access their browsing history data, which the company uses to sell targeted ads.

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The announcement could force advertisers to get more creative about how they retarget consumers on the platform / Facebook

Dubbed Clear History, Facebook claims the new tool will "give people more control over" the data it receives from websites and apps that are plugged into its ad network.

Coming in the midst of Facebook's ongoing Cambridge Analytica crisis, the move signals the first time Facebook has let users opt out of this kind of data collection. It's also the first time since the scandal broke that Facebook has made changes to its own data collection practices, rather than those of its clients and partners.

People with accounts will now be able to view the websites and apps that are using the giant's software plugins to send their information back to Facebook. They will then be able to delete this information from their account, and also turn off the ability for Facebook to store or link it to their profile going forward.

One means by which Facebook collects this data is via its 'pixel' technology, which tracks what people do outwith Facebook's walls.

The update, which was announced ahead of Facebook's F8 developer conference and is expected to launch "in a few months," follows on from Facebook shutting off third-party data targeting for advertisers in April.

Facebook did so in order to improve people's privacy in the wake of allegations that political data firm Cambridge Analytica harvested the information of some 80 million users.

Depending on how many users opt out of Facebook's browsing history collection practices, the announcement could force advertisers to get more creative about how they retarget consumers on the platform rather than relying on a code to track activity.

In a blog post detailing the ins and outs of the forthcoming Clear History tool, Facebook said: "If you clear your history or use the new setting, we’ll remove identifying information so a history of the websites and apps you’ve used won’t be associated with your account."

Facebook will still provide its partner apps and websites with "aggregated analytics," but any information stored will be anonymised, and crucially it won't be linked to a users' account.

Interestingly, because Facebook's browsing data plugins, websites and apps can collect data on internet users who aren't signed up to Facebook, these users will have no way of turning this kind of data collection off.

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg penned his own post on the matter, warning users that opting out had the potential to make parts of the Facebook experience worse.

"Your Facebook won't be as good while it relearns your preferences," he said, before conceding that it was something users have been asking for and saying the company was working with privacy advocates on.

"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," he added.

Zuckerberg appeared before US politicians last month to answer questions on Facebook's business practices in the aftermath of scrutiny around how it handles users' personal information.

Today (1 May) the UK government demanded that the boss come give evidence in person to MPs, warning that if he does not agree he could face formal summons the next time he lands on UK soil.

Cambridge Analytica Mark Zuckerberg Technology

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