Facebook’s ‘Clear History’ Feature Finally Launches
The big event in Facebook’s calendar each year is its F8 Developer Conference.
F8 tends to be the more formal, and public, culmination of product launches and strategy pivots which have been in the pipeline for perhaps six months prior.
However, every year, there are several unsighted developments, and occasional changes from left-field, which catch digital analysts unawares.
One of the more interesting, unexpected announcements from 2018’s F8 was the announcement of a new ‘Clear-History’ feature.
Fresh off the back of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and with Facebook trust at an all-time low, in May 2018, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company would be creating a “Clear History” feature that deletes the data that third-party websites and apps share with Facebook.
The feature has finally gone live this week in several markets, ahead of a global roll-out.
Data Collection & Privacy Abuses On An Industrial Scale
Social media data abuse and misuse is a huge problem; let’s make no bones about that.
For example, would you ‘Like’ something to get a free coffee? Most would, but, alas, nothing in life truly comes for free…
Facebook, and pretty much everyone else in the online ecosystem, collects mind-blowing amounts of data on users not just when they use Facebook, but when users browse the web more broadly.
The Facebook Pixels which marketers install on their sites and even ‘Like’ buttons, and other assorted widgets used, facilitate unprecedented surveillance power to Big Blue.
It is this element of consumer data, that which can be garnered passively when browsing the web, which Facebookers will now be able to effectively opt-out of.
Note, the data is not being deleted, rather it will no longer be used for ad targeting purposes.
As you can imagine this could have a substantial impact of the targeting capabilities of Facebook ads.
Remarketing Ads Will Get A BIG Squeeze, But…
Facebook is pretty open about the potential impact this could cause, not only on the quality of its ads, but also the possible implications for its revenue growth.
As noted by Facebook CFO David Wehner, speaking at a Morgan Stanley conference in February:
“It’s one of the factors that’s contributing to our expected deceleration of revenue growth throughout the year.”
The reality is if you remove strong behavioural cues or ‘intent’ signals from internet advertising, it’s actually pretty weak.
Traditional offline media is widely acknowledged as being more trusted and even more persuasive. Although a challenge with more traditional channels is, they’re very broadly targeted and recipients are largely passive when reached.
However, if we remove intent signals from online ads and targeting goes back to being largely passive (as is with most offline media), then marketers will have to question the value they’re getting from certain digital investments.
Already, marketers disappointed with diminishing digital returns are starting to trickle back to channels of old.
To what extent this impacts Facebook’s ad targeting abilities is probably dictated by two things:
- How prevalent the new opt-out feature is
- Will users really get it?
- Facebook contingency plans to counter drop off
- What’s the workaround?
On the surface, it appears that removing off-Facebook tracking would be disastrous for targeting, but in practice, it *may* not be as bad as it seems.
Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, and David Baser, Director of Product Management
‘Since Off-Facebook Activity is a new kind of tool, there was no template for us to follow. Our engineering teams redesigned our systems and built a new way for them to process information. We also conducted months of research to get input from people, privacy advocates, policymakers, advertisers and industry groups. We made important changes in response to what we learned.’
For example, at Google’s recent Marketing Live event, privacy was a hot topic.
As such, Google discussed at length, shifting its intelligence capabilities more to favour what’s known as ‘federated learning’.
In other words, it still gets to learn heaps about users’ needs, wants and interests but processes the data in a different way. Ergo, creating a veneer of increased privacy, when really, it’s a technicality.
The consumer's behaviour is still leveraged for ad targeting purposes. Only time will tell what aces Facebook has up it's sleave.
In the immediate term, for marketers, the most likely pain will be felt on remarketing ads, if at all. Therefore, monitor your performance closely in the coming months.
Who knows, you might get off lightly or you might need to re-strategise.