Facebook's giving users a way to wipe their app and website history, which would affect how well it can target ads

Key Points
  • If users clear off-Facebook activity, the platform will not be able to use any of that data to target ads on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger.
  • Users will have to turn the feature on, and there's historically a disconnect between how much people say they care about privacy, and what they're willing to do to protect it.
  • The feature will roll out in Ireland, South Korea and Spain first.
Founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg leaves after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on May 10, 2019.
Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Facebook is planning to allow users to disconnect their account from their app and website history.

If users decide to clear that activity, Facebook won't able to use it to target ads at them.

The feature comes as Facebook continues to grapple with its privacy practices and lawmakers' scrutiny over how it uses personal data to display ads. But it probably won't have much effect on Facebook's business because it requires users to turn the feature on.

In a blog post, Facebook explains how the feature works: Today, if a user browses a clothing site and looks at a certain pair of shoes, that clothing site may then want to show follow-up ads to close the deal. The site can share information about that person's interests with Facebook, which can later show ads for the same shoes to them.

But if the user clears their off-Facebook activity, Facebook would never know about their earlier activity on the clothing site.

"We won't know which websites you visited or what you did there, and we won't use any of the data you disconnect to target ads to you on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger," the post says. "We expect this could have some impact on our business, but we believe giving people control over their data is more important."

This is likely a move to stay ahead of regulators in the U.S. and abroad that are cracking down on Facebook's ad targeting practices, eMarketer analyst Jasmine Enberg said in an emailed statement. But it won't hurt Facebook's business unless people actually take the time to opt out.

"The impact of the 'Off-Facebook Activity' tool on Facebook's ad business depends on consumer adoption," she said. "It takes a proactive step for consumers to go into their Facebook settings and turn on the feature. As we've seen in the past, there is a disconnect between people who say they care about privacy and those who actually do something about it. If not enough people use the tool, it's unlikely that it will have a material impact on Facebook's bottom line."

The company is "gradually" making the feature available to people in Ireland, South Korea and Spain and said it will continue rolling it out everywhere else in the coming months.

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