Facebook recently announced an update to its “Clear History” feature that will limit the amount of off-Facebook data advertisers can use to reach customers.

This feature was first announced back in 2018 at Facebook’s F8 conference, but little about the final product was known at the time. The latest update sheds some light on what advertisers and users alike should expect to see in the coming months.

What is the “Clear History” feature?

Users will be able to adjust their Facebook privacy settings to view what data from “off Facebook activity” has been collected on them and who has collected it. They will also be able to control which of these data points can be used to target them within the Facebook ecosystem, including ads on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.



If a user chooses to limit the data used to target them, they will have two options:

1) Clear their existing history: Any data collected up to that moment in time will become anonymized; advertisers will not be able to target them based on the previous data. Advertisers will be able to reach these users based on new tracking data collected from that moment on — until the user decides to clear their history again.

2) Disassociate from data collection: This option allows users to clear their history and opt out from having their data used in targeting moving forward. No new data will be collected, but users have the ability to change their settings in the future.

It is expected that this feature will begin rolling out worldwide in early June and will likely debut in the US in mid-July.

What data will be impacted?

Users will not be able to completely remove themselves from targeting. The new options will allow them to only clear data that has been passed back to Facebook via their Business Tools — for example, Facebook’s SDK, a Facebook Pixel, or Facebook’s API. In other words, if a user clears their history, it may become harder to retarget them based on their activity on your site or app.

One important data point that won’t be impacted are custom audiences built off first-party lists uploaded directly to Facebook (e.g. email lists and donor files).

What impact will this have on paid campaigns?

At this point, it’s hard to say: It remains to be seen what share of users will take advantage of this feature. Not only will it live within a larger menu of privacy settings, Facebook will also warn users that activating this feature will result in them seeing less relevant ads. Additionally, 74 percent of Facebook users are not even aware that Facebook tracks information about them and sells it to advertisers, according to Pew.

As marketers, we will need to actively monitor the addressable population of any custom audiences currently using data that will be affected (e.g. site retargeting). If the potential reach of any key audience segment is significantly impacted, alternative targeting parameters may need to be identified for future campaigns. Any plans for the second half of 2019 and beyond should be crafted with these changes in mind.

Final thoughts

Facebook has always been part of the consideration set for paid campaigns across a multitude of objectives. Its reach, abundance of data, and low barrier to entry — combined with producing stronger results on average compared to other digital channels — have been a godsend to advertisers and agencies alike.

However, much of this has come at the expense of giving Facebook users ownership of their own data and being transparent in how that data is used by third parties. While these updates may limit the ability to target users within Facebook’s ecosystem, we fully support an advertising industry that respects data privacy.

We’ll continue to work with our clients to collect and utilize first-party data as transparently as possible to build better relationships with their communities.

Not sure what this means for your paid media plans? We can help — get in touch with us.