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Clear History, the privacy feature promised by Facebook is not yet ready

facebook clear history privacy

Facebook has not yet released Clear History, an important privacy feature that Mark Zuckerberg promised more than seven months ago

Facebook has not yet released Clear History, an important privacy feature that Mark Zuckerberg promised more than seven months ago.

In May, at the height of the Facebook privacy scandal related to Cambridge Analytica, the company had made a timely announcement: Facebook users would soon be able to delete the browsing history linked to their Facebook profile, which meant that the company would no longer connect users to apps and websites visited outside the social network.

So Facebook Clear History

The product, called Clear History, received a lot of attention: not only the navigation data are important – Facebook uses them to direct people to advertising – but CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Clear History during the annual Facebook developer conference. Clear History was presented to show everyone how serious Facebook was about privacy.

This is an example of the kind of control we think you should have, wrote Zuckerberg in a post, something privacy advocates asked and we will work with them to make sure we do it right.

Clear History, the timing of release is still uncertain

Apparently, deleting the browser history has been more difficult to implement than Facebook predicted, since more than seven months have passed since Zuckerberg's announcement and since then Facebook has no longer mentioned Clear History.

Facebook's privacy officer, Erin Egan, said it would take a few months to build the function. Now Facebook says it won't be ready for many more months yet.

Product delays are not uncommon in the world of technology, but Clear History was announced to show users how serious privacy was for Facebook. Now a whole year may pass between that announcement and the actual product test.

It will take more time than we initially thought, admitted David Baser, head of the privacy product team, in a recent interview, we underestimated how long it would take. Baser said that Facebook will deliver the product for testing by the spring of 2019.

Like Facebook it stores user data

Baser has reduced the delay to two technical challenges, both related to how Facebook stores user data on its servers.

1. Facebook data is not always stored in the same way as it is collected. When Facebook collects web browsing data, for example, the data set includes multiple parts, such as personally identifiable information, the website visited and the time stamp of when the data was collected.

Sometimes this data is separated and stored in different parts of the Facebook system. Find them all so they can be cleaned up, especially once separated, a challenge, said Baser.

2. Facebook currently stores the navigation data based on date and time, not which user they belong to. This means that in the Facebook system there is no easy way to see all the navigation data connected to a single user. Facebook had to create a new system that stores navigation data classified at user level. "It wasn't very easy to build," said Baser. This is an important element, because, to allow users to enter and delete data, they must be able to find it.

Like Facebook it manages user data

Facebook collects large amounts of user data and has been criticized for years for not being clear enough about what it collects and why. These criticisms peaked in 2018, when users and regulators began to seriously question company practices and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was summoned to Washington to explain everything before the US Congress.

Facebook has repeatedly stated that the privacy of data and users is an absolute priority and the reason why Baser's team exists. The group, which deals exclusively with privacy products, was created in May during a corporate restructuring.

Since then, things have not gone very well for Facebook. The company announced a massive attack in September, as well as a series of software bugs with privacy implications, including one last Friday that may have exposed users' private photos to app developers. Facebook took more than three weeks to announce the violation publicly, after notifying the authorities. Not surprisingly, Baser says that one of the focal points for his team to find a quicker and clearer way to alert users of privacy related incidents.

The importance of chronology and Clear History

Explaining how clear chronology works to users will probably be a challenge; c 'a reason why Clear History is not called Delete the history: the use of the function disassociates the navigation data that Facebook collects from your specific account but the data will not be completely deleted from the Facebook server, said Baser, instead they will be only de-identified, which means that they will be stored by Facebook, but no longer tied to the user who created them.

Why can't Facebook simply stop the collection of browsing history altogether? It could, but a large part of the Facebook business depends on the collection of this type of navigation data and the complete stop to data collection would end up paralyzing a large revenue stream. Facebook, in fact, an advertising company and it means that it is necessary to know which sites the users visit so that Facebook can charge advertisers with figures in an appropriate and justified way, it basically said Baser. For example, Facebook may charge an advertiser a figure each time you visit the website of that advertiser.

We cannot actually stop data collection, said Baser, but what we can do is remove the identifier that lets us know who they are.

It means that Clear History should make sure that you will not see those sometimes disturbing advertisements on Facebook about products you have seen on other websites. This does not mean, however, that Facebook will stop watching you as you surf the web.

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