Facebook just introduced a new way to track the websites you visit – and if you’re familiar with the tech giant’s history of data harvesting, that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The new setting, called “Link History,” keeps track of all the webpages you’ve visited within Facebook’s mobile browser over the past 30 days. The links are then gathered together into an archive that you can view at any time.
On the surface, it sounds like the tool could be fairly beneficial… but for whom?
The Catch Behind the Convenience
Facebook’s parent company, Meta, will try to tell you that this new feature is for your benefit, of course. “Never lose a link again,” says the dialog box that pops up, encouraging you to leave Link History on the default setting: ON. The text continues: “When you allow link history, we may use your information to improve your ads across Meta technologies.”
And there it is – the raison d’être for this new tool: advertising.
On the one hand, you get a 30-day record of all your clicked links (which is useful for the occasional instance when you want to get back to a webpage you visited via the app and you can’t find it). But on the other hand, Facebook gets to shore up its massive data harvesting empire and targeted advertising apparatus. One would argue that Facebook comes out on top in that deal.
But why now? With Apple and Google strengthening privacy restrictions and lawmakers tightening up tech regulations – as well as the digital marketing scene potentially trending toward a cookieless future – Meta may be looking for new avenues to preserve its ability to deliver hyper-targeted ads with user consent. That’s good news for marketers who are concerned about being able to continue reaching high-value consumers in the face of an uncertain future.
Does This Really Change Anything?
Given that Facebook has always kept track of the links you click on, the introduction of the Link History tool raises some questions. The major difference is that now Facebook users get to access that information themselves for the first time.
It’s arguably strategic on Meta’s part: make the feature seem useful and fun, so that users will willingly keep it turned on. Then, since they’ve offered users the choice and also made it clear that the data may be used for ads, Meta can claim that users gave informed consent to have ads targeted to them “across Meta technologies” based on their clicked links within the Facebook app.
But opting out of Link History could give users a false sense of privacy. The setting doesn’t apply when you access Facebook on desktop or when you click on links in Messenger. And it’s not as though Facebook is suddenly going to stop its invasive tracking of everything you do after you click a link and browse various webpages.
Plus, Facebook doesn’t mention whether the feature will apply to any of Meta’s other apps, like Instagram and WhatsApp – and the company already links your activity between its apps to build your advertising profile.
The new Link History feature seems to offer Facebook users more control over the way their data is used, but unfortunately, it’s opt-out instead of opt-in, it’s tough to interpret what it really means, the settings aren’t easy to find, and there are other “off-Facebook activity” data collection settings in separate locations. In other words, it’s very possible (even likely) that not much has actually changed.
How to Turn Off Link History
Many users may already have Link History turned on without being aware of it. Because it’s an opt-out feature, it’s easy to miss. Here’s how to disable it:
- Click on any link in the Facebook app to launch Facebook’s mobile browser.
- Tap the three dots at the top right (Android) or bottom right corner (iOS) and then select “Go to settings.”
- Turn off Link History by toggling the switch next to “Allow link history” and confirm your selection by tapping “Don’t allow.”
You can also disable Link History without having to visit an in-app link first, but it’s harder to do. You’ll have to click on the hamburger menu at the top or bottom right corner, scroll down and tap on “Settings & privacy” to open the dropdown menu, select “Settings,” scroll down to the Preferences section, tap on “Browser,” and then toggle the Link History switch on or off as desired.
Once Link History has been disabled, your archive of clicked links will immediately be cleared and you’ll no longer be able to view any of the links you’ve visited. It could take Meta up to 90 days to complete the deletion process on the back end, however.
The tech industry may have to grapple with much stricter data harvesting and privacy laws in the future. European Union regulators, for instance, say that companies need to start getting real consent – not just “agree-or-don’t-use-our-platform” strong-armed permission – to track users online and gather their personal data for targeted advertising.
So for the privacy-conscious consumer, perhaps one of these days it won’t matter if Facebook Link History is enabled because the protections around data privacy will have caught up with companies’ practices. But in the meantime, it’s good to be aware of what the Link History feature does and doesn’t do.
And hey, if you just want to be able to go back and easily find the link to that chocolate chip cookie recipe you clicked on last week, that’s up to you.