- Facebook warned in a Tuesday blog post that its new tool to control off-Facebook user data might not be welcomed by advertisers. Announced last year, the Clear History function will let users delete or turn off data that the social network receives from outside websites and apps visited by Facebook members.
- The tool — which controls information from the Facebook pixel, SDK and API — will be rolled out in the coming months, according ot the post, which appears to be designed to let advertisers know what is heading their way. "When someone disconnects their off-Facebook activity," it says, "we won't use the data they clear for targeting." As a result, the targeting options powered by Facebook tools — such as the popular Custom Audiences — would not be available for that user.
- While this move may be disrupting to advertisers, it is in keeping with the social network's latest announcements in favor of privacy. In March, for instance, the company announced it was planning private communications between its Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger platforms.
If users did wipe clear their activity outside of Facebook, it could put another serious dent in the whole idea of targeting users with ads based on users' data about online behavior outside the social network. The Facebook news follows recent moves by Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome browsers that make tracking cookies something of an endangered species.Given the volume of traffic and advertising the three platforms command, these recent developments, taken together, raise the possibility that the whole practice of tracking users for ad targeting based on non-consented activity data may be headed for a significant downgrade and possibly even the dustbin of marketing history.
The efforts by the major platforms to give users more control over their data comes as more privacy-minded alternatives pop up, like Brave, a web browser that blocks tracking and ads while offering an opt-in rewards-based option for viewing ads. While Brave's audience is still relatively small, topping 5.5 million, it's growth from 1 million users points to interest in platforms that take privacy more seriously than the major players have historically done.
This is not the first time Facebook has closed down a tool to target ads based on third-party data, as it did something similar in March of last year when it shuttered the Partner Categories program. But this growing embrace of privacy measures doesn't seem to have hurt the social platform's bottom line, given that its Q1 2019 revenue of $14.9 billion was 26% higher than a year ago.
Facebook is still reeling from its Cambridge Analytica scandal where private user data was employed for purposes not agreed upon by users, Federal Trade Commission scrutiny about compliance with its government agreement to protect users' privacy data, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) governance by European authorities and other privacy issues. More intense focus by regulators on privacy is likely to lead to further tightening of data privacy measures in the months ahead.