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New Facebook Tool to Let Users Wipe Data Falls Short of Promise

Over a year ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would release a “Clear History” tool to let users easily remove the information it collects about them from third-party websites.

“The idea is a lot of sites need cookies to work, but you should still be able to flush your history whenever you want,” Zuckerberg said at the time. The tool, now called “Off-Facebook Activity,” is officially being made available to some users starting today.

But there are important caveats to how it works. The main catch is that you won’t be able to actually delete the data Facebook collects about you from other sites. Instead, you’ll merely be able to disassociate it from your account. Facebook will still store the data, but it will be  anonymized. You also won’t be able to wipe data collected about you from a specific website or app—you’ll have to erase all of it at once from your profile. Last, you won’t be able to clear data from an app that you log into using your Facebook account.

While those details make the tool less useful than what some users may expect, it could still potentially affect Facebook’s bottom line. If people decide en masse to wipe the data Facebook has associated with them based on their internet activity, such as whether they bought clothing from a certain online retailer, the social network’s ad targeting will be less effective for marketers.

Facebook is making the “Off-Facebook Activity” tool first available in Spain, South Korea, and Ireland before rolling it out more broadly. The company said it will promote the tool to users inside the Facebook app and through other marketing channels.

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