Earlier this year at Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) annual F8 developer conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new feature that was intended to give people greater control over their privacy: Clear History. The issue at hand is that Facebook collects copious amounts of data on users who aren't even registered on Facebook, and the company tracks users even when they're out browsing the broader web beyond the platform. Any site or app that uses Facebook's ads or analytics tools does this. Clear History is meant to allow non-Facebook users to opt out of this tracking, which is inevitably used for ad targeting.
"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," Zuck said at the time. "You'll even be able to turn off having this information stored with your account." Clear History is "something privacy advocates have been asking for," he added.
Unfortunately for said privacy advocates, it's taking a bit longer to develop than Facebook had previously thought.
Better late than never
Recode reports that Clear History is still not ready to be released, seven months after being announced to much fanfare. Facebook had previously anticipated that it would only take "a few months" to develop the feature, after soliciting input from privacy advocates, lawmakers, regulators, and academics. In an interview with Recode, Facebook product exec David Baser admitted that the company underestimated how long it would take to develop, and now expects to start rolling out Clear History for testing "by spring of 2019."
In the interview, Baser points to several technical challenges related to the deployment, such as discrepancies with how data is stored versus how it's collected in the first place. It's also difficult to locate all data that is linked to specific users, and Facebook has had to build a new storage system.
Baser also notes that Clear History doesn't delete the data itself, it just anonymizes it by disassociating the data from specific users. Many tech giants use anonymized and aggregated analytics and other user data in order to improve their products and services.
While the technical challenges appear valid, it still seems like Facebook is dragging its feet with a privacy feature it touted earlier this year as a major privacy win for its 2.2 billion users. Meanwhile, the company continues to disclose new bugs that compromise user privacy, including one just last week in which unshared photos could have been accessed by third-party apps. Facebook estimated that nearly 7 million users could have been affected by that bug.
At least Clear History is almost ready to launch. Better late than never.