TECH
02/05/2018 14:56 BST

Facebook's 'Clear History' Tool Is A Basic Requirement For Your Online Privacy

Even if you're not logged in, Facebook is tracking you.

Facebook has unveiled its latest, and perhaps most powerful, privacy tool in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

It’s called ‘Clear History’ and in much the same way that you can delete your browsing history on Safari or Chrome it allows you to delete all the extra data that Facebook has on you even when you’re not logged in.

“This feature will enable you to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, delete this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward.” explains Erin Egan, VP and Chief Privacy Officer.

JOSH EDELSON via Getty Images

If you’re still wondering what this actually means for you and your personal data then fear not, here’s a brief explainer on the type of data that Facebook collects from other sites and how you’ll be able to delete it using the Clear History feature.

What kind of data does Facebook collect outside of Facebook itself?

A lot more than you might think. Even when you’re not logged into Facebook it’s actually gathering information about you from other websites you use or through your general browsing.

It collects this information through the different products that it offers to companies such as Facebook login, Facebook Analytics, Facebook Ads and the Ads Measurement tool.

Facebook’s login service lets you log in to different apps or services (e.g. Tinder) without having to create a new username and password. To do this Facebook collects your IP address, the browser you’re using and the operating system you’re using e.g. iOS, Windows, Android.

Facebook Analytics lets companies find out about the type of people using their websites. It can do this because each time you visit a website it will ask for ‘cookies’ which identify that you’re actually a Facebook user. Facebook can then take those cookies and create large demographic profiles for these companies to see.

Facebook Ads let you create adverts for Facebook, and then using the same targeting tools, show those adverts on normal websites as well. Essentially this is the technology that makes adverts ‘follow you’ around the internet.

How does Clear History work?

Clear History will show a complete record of all this data that has been collected on you. It will show every piece of data from every website that has collected data on you and then sent it to Facebook.

This of course includes any third-party apps, the most notable of which was the personality quiz associated with Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook says that the tool will allow you to completely delete this information and also adjust your settings so that none of this data will be stored in future.

Now Mark Zuckerberg has said that while Facebook is giving us these tools, the act of deleting all this information will have negative consequences on user experience.

“To be clear, when you clear your cookies in your browser, it can make parts of your experience worse. 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.” explains Zuckerberg.

When can I start using Clear History?

Facebook has said it will take a “few months” to build the tool so probably don’t expect it anytime before July at the very earliest.

“We’ll work with privacy advocates, academics, policymakers and regulators to get their input on our approach, including how we plan to remove identifying information and the rare cases where we need information for security purposes. ” explained Egan.