This comes after a year of data protection controversies and is clearly an attempt to put more control back into the hands of Facebook’s users regarding who can access their data.
However, Facebook has found itself in a bit of a lose-lose scenario when it comes to data protection in ad campaigns.
After all, Facebook needs advertisers in order to keep the service free for people to use — and many have made Facebook their top PPC platform due to the highly advanced targeting it offers.
The issue is that these popular targeting options are so powerful because they track people all over the internet — which is reflective of the very privacy concerns held by some Facebook users. Without making some adjustments to that structure, Facebook risks losing the users that advertisers are trying to reach.
See the problem?
Clearly, some compromise had to be made that provided more control over user data, while also keeping intact the features advertisers love.
Now, we’re seeing one of the first attempts at this compromise rolled out: Clear History.
Clear History offers many benefits from a user standpoint, but also some limitations for advertisers.
To understand what Clear History is, how it affects advertisers, and what you can do to prepare, read on!
What is Clear History?
Facebook’s Clear History feature was announced last year at F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference.
Here’s how Erin Egan, Facebook’s VP and Chief Privacy Officer, explained Clear History when it was first introduced:
“This feature will enable you to see the websites and apps that send us information when you use them, delete this information from your account, and turn off our ability to store it associated with your account going forward. Apps and websites that use features such as the Like button or Facebook Analytics send us information to make their content and ads better. We also use this information to make your experience on Facebook better.”
In other words, Clear History provides Facebook users transparency into what companies have access to their data when browsing the internet outside of Facebook.
For example, if your website has a Facebook Pixel that can capture when a Facebook user visits a particular page on your website, Clear History will show users that you have access to these activities. If a visitor no longer wants to associate that data with their Facebook account, they can choose to “Clear History”, and that activity will no longer be used for advertising purposes.
When this feature was first introduced, Facebook had stated it would take some time to get it up and running. They brought in outside consultants like data privacy advocates, academics, policymakers, and regulators to ensure all situations were accounted for and there were no loose ends.
After almost a year, they’re finally getting ready to launch this publicly.
How Clear History Will Impact Advertisers
From a user perspective, this is certainly a win. As we know, Facebook has faced a slew of controversy surrounding data collection and protection of its users. The Clear History feature gives users more control over what websites and apps can access their personal data — and doing so will likely help Facebook rebuild trust within its community.
However, for advertisers, this change has brought more concerns than celebrations.
As many know, Facebook is one of the go-to advertising platforms due to its large user base and in-depth targeting capabilities — meaning it’s likely you’ll be able to easily segment out a large group and find the most qualified users.
One of the reasons Facebook’s targeting options are so advanced is due to its ability to track off-Facebook activity via Facebook Pixel or other APIs.
So, if users are blocking Facebook’s ability to access this data for ads, what does this mean for your upcoming ad campaigns?
To prep advertisers for this upcoming change, Facebook posted a FAQ-style blog post to answer some of these pressing questions.
The bad news is that yes, Clear History will impact ad targeting — but not to the scale some may think.
All activity that takes place within Facebook is still 100% fair game in terms of targeting — so posts liked, links clicked, posts shared, interests, demographics, etc., can all still be used on the same scale they are today.
However, in situations where you’re trying to target off-Facebook activity, there is a risk this feature can limit your reach.
For example, if you’re hosting a conference and running a re-engagement campaign targeting those who have visited your event page but not yet registered, this campaign would be powered by the Facebook Pixel on your website.
If a user chooses to clear history, this targeting option cannot be used to reach them, so there is a very possible chance of missing out on qualified leads.
While this isn’t to say that any campaigns utilizing off-Facebook activity are no longer worth doing, it’s important to anticipate that a portion of your audience may be excluded due to this feature — and it’s something to keep in mind as you’re build out Facebook campaigns moving forward.
The good news? Measurement & analytic data from Facebook ad campaigns isn’t expected to be affected by Clear History.
“Facebook's measurement and analytics tools have been carefully designed to protect people's identity. We never share anyone's personal information, such as names or phone numbers, in our measurement and reporting tools. And we don't anticipate changes to measurement once this feature is live. We will still be able to provide accurate measurement to help businesses understand the impact of their Facebook investment, while honoring people's choice to exercise control over their off-Facebook activity.”
Simply put, Facebook is saying that while the ability to target individuals may be limited with Clear History, its analytics are carefully designed to be able to provide off-Facebook activity without any identifying information for the users. So, while you might not be able to target outside activity if someone has Clear History turned on, you can still see if they’ve visited your website or taken other actions after seeing your ad.
In my mind, knowing that measurement will remain intact makes this change a bit less painful for marketers. Yes, some retargeting efforts may be limited, but for other campaigns that focus on more top of the funnel targeting, marketers can still see the true impact their ad spend has had on their business.
Late last year, Facebook invested in improving its attribution capabilities to enable marketers to see the full-funnel impact their ad campaigns had on their business, and it’s good to see that none of that new data will be lost due to this feature.
Lean into Transparency with your Marketing
While the Clear History feature isn’t necessarily ideal for marketers, the fact is that this is where the industry is going.
Laws and regulations have been slow to catch up to how fast the digital advertising landscape is evolving, so restrictions like this were bound to happen (and are likely to continue to roll out!).
Facebook’s actions are not a cause to find third-party trackers or workaround solutions — but rather, an opportunity to look at your own marketing practices and see how you can be more transparent yourself.
The modern consumer doesn’t want a flood of emails or a series of hyper-targeted advertisements — and continuing to do so knowing this only enforces the bad reputation marketers and advertisements have.
No marketer wants their target audience to be turned off by one of their ads simply by instinct. Instead, if we educate consumers on our marketing practices and allow them to choose what information is helpful and what isn’t, we build trust with our audience and save ourselves time and money marketing to uninterested people.
So, Clear History is definitely a hurdle to overcome, but it won’t be the last in the fight for data protection and control — we might as well lean into it rather than fight it!
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