Last May, shortly after testifying to Congress in regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement on Facebook detailing the creation of a “Clear History” button. This feature was advertised to remove the association between Facebook users and their online browsing history. Yet, over nine months later, this feature is nowhere to be seen, which has plenty of folks wondering if the silence is a result of Facebook’s lack of concern for user privacy.
Yesterday, Buzzfeed News ran a critical article detailing some of the concerns and delays with the project. There are, however, some signs of life for the highly-anticipated feature. In a December interview with Recode, David Baser, head of Facebook’s Product Privacy Team, indicated that developing the feature has “taken longer than originally thought.” Their current schedule plans for testing of the feature to occur in Spring 2019, but there is no indication how long testing will ultimately take.
No “Easy” button for this
While the “Clear History” button – whenever it launches – will undoubtedly be a boon for users’ control of their data, it won’t solve the issue of data collection altogether. Rather than deleting the data entirely, the “Clear History” function will simply remove the information that identifies the activity for a given user. However, de-identifying data is much easier said than done. Even large corporations like AOL and Netflix have struggled to do this correctly, leaving user identities linked in what was supposed to be “anonymous” data sets. Given their historical issues with user privacy, it’s fair to question if Facebook can be trusted to get this right on the first try.
Whether the “Clear History” button will be enough to appease the existing Facebook users who are concerned for their privacy or convince the number of people who deactivated or deleted their account is unknown. In an era where mistrust of social media platforms is reaching parity with each scandal, it may be the damage has already been done. Long term, it seems clear that either apathy or protest will eventually determine Facebook’s fate.
Which one, however, remains to be seen.