This may not be an annus horribilis over at Facebook HQ the way last year was, but despite still having decent earnings and a semi-stable stock price, it kind of feels like the calm before the storm for the company right now. Facing mounting regulatory probes and following that record-setting settlement with the FTC last month, the company is once again trying to show the world that it cares about your privacy.
Over a year after the Cambridge Analytica debacle showed Facebook users how insidious the practice of personal data-collection has become, Facebook is giving users a new way to control how much data it's collecting on your activities outside Facebook. A new feature within the sites privacy settings called "Off-Facebook Activity" will allow users both to shut down data collection that takes place via little bits of code embedded in third-party sites across the web — which then send data about you back to Facebook — and to wipe clear the history of such data that's been collected.
Because Facebook depends on its deep knowledge about us and our wants and desires to target and sell ads, such a feature could lead to changes in the company's overall business model, and its bottom line.
Speaking to the New York Times, Facebook's director of product management, David Baser, admits that "If this were widely adopted, it would mean less overall revenue for Facebook."
But as the Associated Press points out, for some users, given the fact that there will be ads no matter what, having better targeted ads may be preferable in the long run. Privacy concerns aside, turning off this tracking and clearing one's browsing history could mean seeing "a pair of shoes you decided not to buy, or a nonprofit you [already] donated money to." But for many, keeping one's off-Facebook web browsing history out of Facebook's vast data mine is probably preferable.
Mark Zuckerberg actually promised this "clear history" tool last year, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but the company says that rolling it out has been complex. It's still unclear when U.S. users will even see it — it rolls out today only in Spain, Ireland, and South Korea.
The feature still does not clear one's Facebook browsing, clicking, and liking history — it merely clears data on one's activity outside the Facebook realm, which the majority of users likely do not even known is being collected.
BuzzFeed News had a piece in February that was based on interviews with former Facebook employees who all said that Zuckerberg's new push toward private interactions was mostly about optics — and the fact that the "clear history" feature was still nowhere to be seen nine months after it was promised was more proof of this.
One former employee suggested that Zuck and COO Sheryl Sandberg only respond to increasing pressure. "That pressure could come from the press or regulators, but they’re not keen on decision-making until they’re forced to do so," this person told BuzzFeed. "Whether it is with genocide or false news, there are never going to be changes until the pressure becomes too great."
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