Except the new feature won’t exactly do that.
To understand what’s at work here, you need to know that Facebook collects user information in two ways. First, through info you put into its website and apps. And second — and this is what we’re going to talk about in this article — through information Facebook sucks up about which websites you visit while you’re not on Facebook. It even collects this information from people who don’t have a Facebook account.
For years, the company has used little bits of invisible code and data files to log the websites and apps you’ve visited, what you’ve purchased, and what you’ve clicked on — and then had that information sent right back to the mothership. When Mark Zuckerberg was asked about this in front of Congress, he dodged and claimed he “didn’t know all the details.”
Facebook has long hidden the specifics of what data it collects from users in the second category. When you use Facebook’s Download Your Data tool, this category of data is not there. It’s not apparent what information, exactly, is being collected.
Facebook says this will all change soon. It claims “Clear History” will finally reveal what that off-Facebook browsing data looks like. And yes, it claims it’ll allow users to “clear” it from their profiles.
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit accusing Facebook of tracking users’ web browsing activity even after they logged out of the social networking site.
The plaintiffs alleged that Facebook used the “like” buttons found on other websites to track which sites they visited, meaning that the Menlo Park, California-headquartered company could build up detailed records of their browsing history. The plaintiffs argued that this violated federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws.
US district judge Edward Davila in San Jose, California, dismissed the case because he said that the plaintiffs failed to show that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy or suffered any realistic economic harm or loss.
Davila said that plaintiffs could have taken steps to keep their browsing histories private, for example by using the Digital Advertising Alliance’s opt-out tool or using “incognito mode”, and failed to show that Facebook illegally “intercepted” or eavesdropped on their communications.
“Facebook’s intrusion could have easily been blocked, but plaintiffs chose not to do so,” said Davila, who dismissed an earlier version of the five-year-old case in October 2015.
Clicking on the Facebook “like” button on a third party website – for example, theguardian.com – allows people to share pieces of content to Facebook without having to copy and paste the link into a status update on the social network.
When a user visits a page with an embedded “like” button, the web browser sends information to both Facebook and the server where the page is located.
“The fact that a user’s web browser automatically sends the same information to both parties does not establish that one party intercepted the user’s communication with the other,” said Davila.
The plaintiffs cannot bring privacy and wiretapping claims again, Davila said, but can pursue a breach of contract claim again.
Australian internet security blogger Nik Cubrilovic first discovered that Facebook was apparently tracking users’ web browsing after they logged off in 2011. Responding to Cubrilovic, Facebook engineer Gregg Stefancik confirmed that Facebook has cookies that persist after log-out as a safety measure (to prevent others from trying to access the account) but that the company does not use the cookies to track users or sell personal information to third parties.
However, in 2014 Facebook started using web browsing data for delivering targeted “interest-based” advertising – which explains why you see ads for products you have already been looking at online appear in your Facebook feed.
To address privacy concerns, Facebook introduced a way for users to opt out of this type of advertising targeting from within user settings.
“We are pleased with the court’s ruling,” said a Facebook spokeswoman.