With Facebook letting users erase their web tracks, some advertisers worry they will lose an important connection to potential customers. Meanwhile, other advertisers are less concerned, confident consumers likely won’t mass delete their Facebook history.
A new setting will allow people to erase internet activity associated with their Facebook accounts. On Tuesday, Facebook said it was preparing advertisers for the change, because it could hurt the effectiveness of their campaigns, but it did not even release a launch date, even though it first revealed plans for the “clear history” button last year.
Phillip Huynh, VP of national paid social strategy at 360i, says Facebook’s “clear history” implementation seems unlikely to attract widespread adoption, and it is reminiscent of the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe—meaning there was lots of hype around that last year, but it did not kill internet advertising as feared.
“I think the rollout of GDPR provides a useful analogue here,” Huynh says. “We saw incredible amounts of conversation and concern across the industry ahead of launch, but it’s been out for over a year now, and not much has changed.”
Still, even though the new European privacy regime hasn't dramatically altered advertisers' experience, Facebook has warned of the impacts of the changing marketing landscape. It warned about its "clear history" tool, and during its latest quarterly call with Wall Street analysts David Wehner, Facebook's chief financial officer, said Europe's data rules have led to more consumers opting out of tracking online, which could be an indication of what's to come in the U.S.
"The number of people who have opted out of using context from the apps and Web Sites they visit for ad targeting has continued to increase since the adoption of GDPR, so we've seen that come up both in Europe and around the world," Wehner said in April. "That means those people are seeing new less relevant ads, and that's an ad targeting headwind for our business."
There are very few details yet about how exactly "clear history" will impact advertisers, but according to people briefed on the program and from glimpses of what the company has released so far, it works like this: There is a “clear history” option under the ad settings in people’s accounts. People will be able to see what advertisers track them from websites and apps back to Facebook. And there will also be an option for people to prevent that type of marketing surveillance going forward.
Facebook declined to comment for this story.
Facebook developed the new tools just as the company has embarked on a new mission of making a more private future, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described it. Facebook’s newfound zeal for privacy comes as the whole digital tech industry is rethinking just how much data is being collected on internet users and what that means for security.
Google, too, has had to address its advertising platform and how it tracks web and mobile app users on all their devices. The search giant has promised to give people more control over what type of data gets collected, especially on its Chrome web browser. Google has said it will show users more clearly what websites have tagged them with cookies—files that log browsing patterns—and let people deactivate them.
All the changes mean that advertisers have to start coming up with new strategies to reach consumers with ads, because the old methods could send them to dead ends.
Facebook has told advertisers that “clear history” will start affecting them in the second half of this year.
Some advertisers are concerned about a future where people erase their cookies and clear their Facebook histories. Direct marketers in particular rely on pixels, which are similar to cookies and can identify when a Facebook user visited a brand’s app or site. A marketer might not close an easy sale if they can’t see that a person on Facebook just filled their shopping carts on their website, which is the type of data a pixel might hold.
“The e-commerce industry is the one that is screwed in this,” says David Herrmann, co-owner of Social Outlier, a social media agency. “We did nothing wrong. We’re being thrown under the bus.”
Performance marketers like Herrmann are not after simple ad views; they need to show results from ad campaigns, which often requires sophisticated messaging. For instance, a marketer might serve one ad that prompts a consumer to click and visit a brand’s website. That’s when the marketer can deploy a pixel that will identify the user when he or she is back on Facebook.
Then, the marketer retargets them with a new ad with a more aggressive sales tactic like a special offer. If the user clears their history, that pixel connection is lost.
“That is a wasted ad,” Herrmann says.