Facebook to let users erase personal data, halt further collection, Zuckerberg announces at F8

Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants the world to know the social media giant is serious about improving user privacy standards.

Zuckerberg began his opening keynote at Facebook’s sort-of annual F8 Developer Conference, which kicked off Tuesday in San Jose, Calif., by acknowledging that the company has had an “intense year,” one comprising not only the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, but the company’s acknowledgment of its role in the 2016 U.S. election as both a Russian-wielded tool to support Donald Trump’s victory and, more broadly, to spread fake news.

“We’re idealistic, and we’ve always focused on all the good that connecting people can bring,” he said. “But we’ve also seen people try to use these tools for harm – and that goes for Russia interfering in elections, for fake news, for hate speech, and for data privacy issues.”

“What happened with Cambridge Analytica was a major breach of trust,” he continued. “An app developer took data that people had shared with them and sold it. So we need to make sure that this never happens again.”

Though Zuckerberg said he believes Facebook still carries a responsibility “to keep building services that help us connect in meaningful new ways,” he promised it’s taking multiple steps to prevent other apps from becoming the next Cambridge Analytica: Restricting the data that developers will be able to request; identifying other “bad apps”; providing users with a tool that shows them which apps they’re currently using, and allows them to easily uninstall the apps they no longer want to use; and, with the May 25 activation date of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), encouraging users worldwide to review their privacy controls.

“We’re currently in the process of investigating every single app that had access to a large amount of peoples’ information before [Facebook updated its privacy standards in 2014 to prevent companies from accessing the personal information of users’ friends, a clause Cambridge Analytica used to scrape personal data from up to 87 million accounts], and if we find anything suspicious, we’re going to bring in independent auditors to do a full audit, and if any data was misused, we’ll ban that developer, and tell anyone whose data was affected,” he said.

More importantly, Zuckerberg announced the release of a new tool, Clear History, that will allow Facebook users to view stored information about whatever apps and websites they have interacted with – including the information gathered by websites and apps using Facebook’s advertising and analytics tools – clear the information from their account, and prevent those apps and websites from storing their personal information moving forward.

Zuckerberg also warned users to be careful what they wish for: “To be clear, when you clear your cookies in your browser, it can make parts of your experience worse,” he said. “You may have to sign back into dozens of websites, you may have to reconfigure some things, and the same is going to be true here. Your Facebook won’t be quite as good while it re-learns your preferences. But after going through our systems, this is the kind of control we think that people should have.”

His announcement, which he promised was only “an example” of the privacy features Facebook is now working on, was followed by loud cheers.

“What I’ve learned this year is that we need to take a broader view of our responsibility,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s not enough to just build powerful tools, we need to make sure that they’re used for good. And we will.”

You can learn more about Facebook’s new Clear History feature here.

Other features announced Tuesday at F8 include a new Groups tab, updated Crisis Response features, and… a dating app.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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