In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is looking to clean up his company’s image and restore the trust of users. To that end, he has declared new initiatives that will allow users to reassert control over the ways that their information is used. Facebook will limit the types of information that apps can access and prevent apps from accessing a user’s data after three months of inactivity. Additionally, Facebook has implemented a simple tool for reviewing and removing app permissions.
Zuckerberg also unveiled a surprising feature at Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference in San Jose. “In your web browser, you today have a simple way to clear your cookies and clear your browsing history,” he said, while pacing and gesticulating on the stage. He mentioned that users are accustomed to the concept of internet cookies and understand that a lot of sites need this data to work, but users still have the ability to go in and clear out their history at any point that they want.
“So we’re working on a version of this for Facebook, too,” Zuckerberg continued. “It’s a simple control where you can clear your browsing history — what you’ve clicked on, the websites you’ve visited and so on, and we’re going to call it Clear History.”
He mentioned that a lot of people have specifically asked about the information being acquired from websites and apps that are using Facebook’s advertising and analytics tools. Facebook’s clear history tool will enable users to see information about the apps and websites with which they interacted and will then have the option to erase all of this information from their accounts.
In a Facebook post, the billionaire CEO said that privacy advocates have been requesting this level of control, but a user could worsen their Facebook experience by flushing their history. “Your Facebook won’t be as good while it relearns your preferences,” he warned.
After the implementation of this functionality, digital marketers might not be able to target some consumers as precisely, but they seem to be fine with it. DMN reached out to numerous people in the field of marketing and tech to gauge industry reactions and there was broad acceptance for Facebook’s clear history tool. Several sources mentioned that clear history isn’t necessarily the most appropriate remedy given the specific nature of the scandal. However, no one viewed it as something that would fundamentally impede their digital marketing efforts.
Alison Werning, co-founder of Launching Labs Marketing, expressed skepticism that users will widely take advantage of the newly unveiled features. “Even with clear history, how many people will use it? Only 15-25% of people use Adblock,” she said. “The ability to clear your history is a good response but the bottom line is if you put your information on the internet, someone can find it. Once it’s there, if marketers can harvest it, they will!”
Ellie Mirman, CMO at Crayon, observed that marketers will continue to advertise on Facebook, in spite of the clear history tool, because marketers go where the consumers go. Facebook needs to repair its reputation in order to retain and grow its user base. Instead of trying not to offend marketers, Facebook is working to keep users loyal to the platform. “The biggest threat to Facebook’s advertising business is losing the user base to which they sell access,” concluded Mirman.
She added, “I don’t think this will be the end of the story or the last demanded response. This latest change is still backward-looking — focusing on data that has already been collected, rather than addressing consumer concerns about what data is collected and how that data is used and stored.”
Alexei Chemenda, an executive at Adikteev, echoed Mirman’s point about looking past the company’s damage control efforts and towards the future.
He said, “I’m a lot more interested in what they’re doing to avoid future data breaches, similar to Cambridge Analytica, even for users that do not clear their browsing history.”
Chemenda also noted that the new tool could affect the cost of reaching certain audiences.
“I highly doubt marketers and advertisers will be slowing down their Facebook spend, but they will have to re-adjust their cost of customer acquisition,” he explained. “They will fragment their pricing per audience in a way that reflects an increase on the CPM/CPC bids for users who do have their history still stored, and a much lower CPM/CPC for less targeted audiences, using other types of targeting options such as device, location, etc.”
He said that some tech-savvy users will erase their data, but not all of them will choose to do so. “I myself prefer seeing targeted ads rather than random displays, so I will not be clearing my history,” he commented.
By contrast, Amit Dar, general manager, US at Taptica, thinks that clear history could actually improve marketing efforts by removing a long history of irrelevant data points, in favor of fewer but more relevant data points.
He explained, “I might be targeted based on searches, views, likes and clicks I did a long time ago that are completely irrelevant. Clearing the history, and starting from scratch will allow advertisers to have real, actionable, almost live, data to utilize for their campaigns.”
Thunder Experience Cloud CEO Victor Wong said that clear history is part of a broader effort to present more privacy choices to consumers. He explained, “Clear history is a reasonable response, but what consumers really care about is ensuring personally identifiable information doesn’t get out, making it possible to tie what they do to who they are in the real world. For example, people still anonymously contribute their app behavior data to developers when their app crashes to improve future app performance — they are willing to accept some anonymized tracking for benefits.”
Finally, Lou Jordano, CMO of Crimson Hexagon, said it’s too early know if the recently announced clear history feature will satisfy consumer demands for clear, customizable, and intuitive data policies. However, it signals a shift in the way that society is grappling with issues of privacy and security in the digital world.
“The best brands will already start planning for a world where this information is not available to them, forcing them to be more thoughtful and creative about how they obtain and use consumer information in their advertising,” he said.
Jordano forecasted, “While access to private data is declining (as it should), access to large-scale public data has never been more abundant. Instead of using individual private data to create creepily personalized ads (which consumers increasingly dislike), brands can use aggregated data from trillions of online conversations from social networks as well as other sources of public consumer data like blogs, forums, review sites and new items to create compelling, data-driven creative.”
As marketers adapt and look towards the future, the controversy hasn’t completely settled down. Shortly after Mark Zuckerberg’s most recent testimony in Brussels, Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, tweeted that he made it clear to Zuckerberg that digital platforms must guarantee full protection of citizens’ privacy. “Democracy cannot be turned into a marketing operation,” his tweet concluded.
Although the ongoing scandal ignited an ethics debate centered on big data and briefly turned #deleteFacebook into a trending topic, overall Facebook usage appears to be unaffected. In fact, according to some recently released figures, Facebook attracted more unique users on its mobile platform after the scandal. Time spent on Facebook also increased, as did ad targeting across all demos.