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Facebook will allow users to opt out of letting Facebook collect their browsing history

It’s arguably the company’s biggest update since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Facebook users will soon be able to opt out of one of Facebook’s key data gathering practices: Its collection and use of people’s web browsing history, which the company uses to sell targeted ads.

Facebook collects a lot of data about you whether you use the service or not. One of the most important data sets the company has relates to your browsing history — the list of websites and apps that you visit even when you are not on Facebook. The company collects this thanks to web and app developers that use Facebook’s software plugins, which send browsing data back to Facebook.

The company collects this browsing data for a number of reasons, but the most valuable reason is to target you with ads. If you are looking at a pair of shoes at Nordstrom, for example, but don’t buy them, you might see an ad for those same shoes later on Facebook.

There hasn’t ever been a way to stop Facebook from collecting this data, but now there is: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on Tuesday that users can opt out of this data collection for the first time.

You can now tell Facebook to stop collecting your browsing history.

As part of an upcoming feature called “clear history,” users can delete their browsing data from Facebook‘s servers, or ask the company not to collect it to begin with. Your browsing data could still be retained in an anonymous, aggregated set for companies that use Facebook for analytics purposes, but it wouldn’t be tied to your profile or used for targeting, a spokesperson confirmed. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you can’t opt out of this data collection.

If you choose to simply delete the data instead of opting out entirely, it won’t be deleted instantaneously. Facebook will still retain that information for a short time after you instruct the company to delete it. But it will be a much shorter amount of time than the company currently holds onto that data, which is 90 days. (Some of the aggregated analytics data is stored for two years, a spokesperson says.)

The change comes at a time when Facebook is making a lot of updates to its privacy and data collection practices. The social giant has been in hot water for the past six weeks following revelations that its old data policies allowed an outside research firm, Cambridge Analytica, to gather data from tens of millions of Facebook users without their permission.

The company has been scrambling to make changes to its policies ever since thanks to pressure from angry users and opportunistic politicians, plus looming privacy regulations known as GDPR set to go into effect in Europe later this month.

The browsing history opt-out is arguably Facebook’s biggest update so far. That’s because it directly impacts the amount of data Facebook will collect about its users. All of the other changes Facebook has announced limited how much data the company will share with outsiders, but didn’t address how much it collected itself.

Zuckerberg is set to announce the “Clear History” feature onstage at Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, on Tuesday morning.

Today at our F8 conference I'm going to discuss a new privacy control we're building called "Clear History". In your...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

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