Facebook’s new ‘clear history’ feature: Here’s what you need to know

How much do we know about you? This much! But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he's introducing a 'clear history' function. Source: Getty

It’s the new Facebook feature you need to know about.

Under fire for having allowed companies to harvest users’ data, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the company is building a privacy control feature called Clear History. It’ll work like the clear history function in your web browser, which lets you get rid of the cookies placed on computer that allow advertisers and other sites to track the sites you visit.

“We’re building a version of this for Facebook too. It will be a simple control to clear your browsing history on Facebook – what you’ve clicked on, websites you’ve visited, and so on,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post just hours ago. “Once we roll out this update, you’ll be able to see information about the apps and websites you’ve interacted with, and you’ll be able to clear this information from your account. You’ll even be able to turn off having this information stored with your account.”

He didn’t set a date for the release of the function, but he does note that your experiences using Facebook might be worse because the site won’t be able to remember your preferences. He cites the impact that clearing cookies from your web browser has – you have to re-enter passwords for regularly visited sites, the browser doesn’t remember the address of your favourite sites etc. 

“The same will be true here,” Zuckerberg warned in the post. “Your Facebook won’t be as good while it relearns your preferences.”

Read more: How to tell if your Facebook data was stolen

The young Facebook CEO was talking at the F8 Facebook Developers conference in California on May 1 when he revealed the new function. What he’s talking about sounds complicated but it’s pretty simple.

There are two main ways to track your online activities. Every device that connects to the internet has a unique IP (or internet protocol) address that identifies it every time it engages with the world wide web. Websites need your IP address to send the information from webpages to your device’s browser – the site How Stuff Works describes it as being like your postal address, which allows the postal service to ensure letters are delivered to you. Your internet service provider (ISP) can link some of your personal details to your IP address.

Meanwhile, cookies are used by groups other than your ISP to track your activities. They’re little files that get saved in your browser or on your device every time you visit a site, containing info such as your login, what you may’ve put in your shopping cart etc. They’re the thing that allow advertisers to follow you from site to site – you’ve no doubt noticed that if you look at something in an e-store or read a series of webpages on a particular topic, advertisements and similar topics keep appearing when you visit other sites.

“First-party cookies are cookies left on your browser from Web sites you visited,” How Stuff Works explains in a helpful series on how to surf the web safely (we’ve put the link to the series a few paragraphs above in case you want to read more. “Third-party cookies are files stored on your computer from advertisers and other parties that have information-sharing agreements with the site you visited. Many people find third-party cookies to be a particularly egregious breach of privacy, since you have no control over who collects information about you.”

Those cookies are scrapped when you clear your history on your browser, which is why your login details for favourite sites have to be re-entered. Advertisers and other groups have to abide by rules on how they use IP address information and cookies and what data they store, but Zuckerberg say he believes that Facebook users should have more control over what data it keeps.

“It’s something privacy advocates have been asking for – and we will work with them to make sure we get it right,” he said in his post.  “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.”

Will you use a clear history function on Facebook? Are you concerned about your privacy when browsing online?




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