Don't you wish you could just 'clear' your Facebook history?

Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal earlier this year, many people are more aware of how much data Facebook tracks and keeps on them, as well as how their data can be easily monetised (and weaponised against them) by third parties. As a result, Facebook has been facing a lot pressure, and it's pledged to be more transparent about what it's doing with all your data.

It's been asked to give users more ways to manage their data on the social network, too. And, at F8 2018, Facebook gave in a little. It described its recent scandals as "major" breaches of trust. Going forward, it vows to "make sure that this never happens again". As part of that effort, Facebook is developing a 'Clear History' tool. The idea is, finally, you'll be able to clear your Facebook history.

The tool isn't yet available, but here's everything we know about it so far.

What is Facebook's Clear History tool?

In your web browser, whether it's Chrome or Safari, you have a simple way to clear your cookies and browsing history.

Inspired by this capability, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on stage while at the mostly-annual F8 developer conference in April that Facebook is working on its own version, so that you can control and clear your browsing history. That includes what you've clicked on, the websites you've visited, and so on. It's going to call this Clear History.

You'll be able to use this tool to see the sites and apps you've interacted with; you're going to be able to clear all this information from your account, and you'll even be able to turn it off, Zuckerberg explained.

How does Facebook collect data?

Before we get into how Clear History is supposed to work, according to Facebook, you first need to understand how exactly Facebook collects your data. It collects information on you the following ways:

  1. Through information you provide or grant access to via website and apps
  2. Through information Facebook collects about which websites you visit while you’re not on Facebook. It also collects this information from people who aren't on Facebook

That second way is the one we're focused on... Facebook, in the background, essentially logs the websites and apps you’ve visited, what you’ve bought, and what you’ve clicked on while browsing the web. This works when you visit any site that features a Facebook Like button, share button, an ad bought through Facebook, etc.

A company's site may insert cookies onto your browser, helping Facebook follow you around. These cookies can even detect if you’re logged into Facebook. But, when you download your data using Facebook data tool, you will not see any of this "off-Facebook" data listed. So, it’s not obvious what information Facebook's collects on you.

However, Facebook wants to change that with Clear History.

FacebookWhat is Facebooks Clear History tool and when will it launch image 2

How will Clear History work?

Clear History will ideally show you the "off-Facebook browsing data" that Facebook collects on you, and yes, it'll also allow you to “clear” that data from your profile. The thing is, as pointed out by Buzzfeed, privacy experts think the tool won’t delete your history from Facebook’s servers. It also won’t let you opt out of Facebook’s tracking.

So, what will it do? Facebook said it will let you view your web browsing history and clear that history from your Facebook profile. You can also opt out of Facebook’s ability to store the browsing data associated with your account. As Buzzfeed noted, that doesn't mean it'll remove your browsing history from its servers.

Facebook will still have it. If you opt out, it just means your data will be unidentifiable - or unassociated with you. More importantly, Facebook has not said how it'll handle your browsing history once it’s detached from your Facebook profile. In other words, Clear History looks great at first, but it may ring hollow in reality and could be mostly good PR.

When will Clear History be available?

Clear History was originally supposed to be available in 2018. However, the company's David Baser told Recode that Clear History will be available for testing "by spring of 2019". It's "taking longer" to launch due to technical issues that popped up during development.

Want to know more?

See these guides on Facebook and how to manage your Facebook data: