Will “Clear History” Bring an End to Facebook Ads?

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You’re browsing sports highlights by the pool, drinking a brew, when you see it right there on your Instagram: an ad for the set of golf clubs you’ve been eyeing. “How did they know?” you ask.

The answer is Facebook’s pixel. This simple piece of code is a marketer’s secret weapon; once installed on a website or app, it works like a snitch, sending your browsing activity directly to Facebook. For years, advertisers have relied on this pixel data to improve ads targeting and increase ROI. It’s effective enough to convince people Facebook is tapping their phones, sparking a PR disaster and official denial from Facebook back in 2016.

With Facebook’s new “Clear History” tool, this all could change…  

Clear History is a feature that will allow Facebook users to view and delete their off-network activity; similar tools have long been offered in internet browsers but not on social media platforms. Earlier this year, Facebook issued a statement introducing its rollout, with one big takeaway: Clear History could impact ads targeting. Users who choose to delete their data will be removed from pixel targeting. 

This has caused somewhat of a panic among marketing professionals, understandably so; Facebook advertising is a billion-dollar industry, and businesses have grown reliant on its ads platform. Will Clear History bring an end to Facebook ads? 

The short answer? No. 

To those familiar with running Facebook ads, Clear History may strike a sense of déjà vu. In early 2018, prompted by the Cambridge Analytica scandal and GDPR (go read my blog), Facebook removed third-party data from ads targeting. Over 5,000 targeting options suddenly vanished; advertisers had to quickly readjust their strategy and budget to stay relevant. Yet, there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that Facebook ads have become any less effective since this change. On the contrary, advertisers keep pouring money into the system – Facebook’s fourth-quarter revenue reached a high of $16.6 billion in 2018. Surely, Facebook wouldn’t cannibalize its earnings with Clear History. After all, there’s no way to opt-out of ads entirely – those who use the tool will still be subject to in-network targeting. 

Nobody likes a snitch. But will people actually use Facebook’s Clear History tool? Allow me to answer a question with a question: when was the last time you cleared your browsing data? When was the last time you cared?

Billions of people are already willing to trade some of their privacy to use Facebook and Instagram. Last year, amidst growing privacy concerns and public backlash for Facebook’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the #DeleteFacebook movement began. Millions of people, including Facebook insiders and celebrities, left the network. Yet, something strange happened; Facebook reported an increase in both earnings and monthly active users. How is this possible? Many of the #DeleteFacebook activists never really left – they just moved to Instagram and WhatsApp (both owned by Facebook).

Privacy is a funny thing. As Americans, we take pride in our personal privacy – as long as it’s convenient. The second we’re hit with a terms of service agreement we throw our privacy to the wind, all for that drug we call technology.

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