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In a major policy change, Facebook said on Tuesday that it will soon allow users to wipe their browsing histories from the platform and prevent the company from scooping up some of the data it uses to sell targeted ads.
The announcement comes amid a furor over revelations that the data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica inappropriately acquired the private data of tens of millions of Facebook users, a scandal that forced Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress last month.
"One thing I learned from my experience testifying in Congress is that I didn't have clear enough answers to some of the questions about data," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post about an hour before taking the stage at the company's annual F8 developer conference in San Jose, California.
Facebook will still track users by default, and people will need to change their privacy settings to scrub their accounts and prevent future ad targeting.
At the start of the conference, Zuckerberg and Facebook's chief product officer, Chris Cox, outlined other new programs, including:
- A dating feature, similar to Match.com, that Zuckerberg said would be designed "not just for hookups" but to build "meaningful, long-term relationships."
- A function that would allow users to vote up or down on a Facebook comment, similar to a popular feature on the social news site Reddit.
But the new privacy initiative might have the most lasting effect on Facebook's long-term future, allowing users to avoid some of the platform's abilities to track people on websites across the internet — including data collected through its "Like" button and its "Pixel" program.
Zuckerberg said the new privacy control would be called Clear History, the common name for the web browser function that lets users delete their cookies and browsing records.
In a separate blog post on Tuesday, just as the F8 conference was getting underway, Facebook's chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, said it would take months to build the Clear History feature. And in an interview with Wired, Zuckerberg said it would take three years for the company to become more proactive in policing content on the platform.
Egan said the company will let a user see which websites and apps are feeding data back to Facebook, "delete" that information, and opt out of connecting future data collection to their account. Facebook will still collect user data but will not directly associate it with a particular user's account.
"If you clear your history or use the new setting, we’ll remove identifying information so a history of the websites and apps you’ve used won’t be associated with your account," Egan said.