Facebook’s Launch of ‘Clear History’ Feature This Year Will Crimp Ad Growth, CFO Says

For Facebook, giving its 2.32 billion monthly users the ability to clear out their digital history — something the company plans to launch in 2019 — is going to hurt the social-media colossus’ business, according to a top Facebook exec.

“Privacy is a headwind for us in 2019,” CFO David Wehner said, speaking at the Morgan Stanley 2019 Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on Tuesday in San Francisco. “It’s one of the factors that’s contributing to our expected deceleration of revenue growth throughout the year.”

At a high level, the clear-history tool is “going to give us some headwinds in terms of being able to target as effectively as before,” Wehner said.

Meanwhile, during the same session, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg claimed that “Targeted advertising and privacy are not at odds,” and she said that one of the things “people fundamentally don’t understand well enough about Facebook… is our business model.”

Wehner has previously discussed the prospect of an increased focus on privacy and security as hampering Facebook’s revenue growth this year. On the company’s Q4 call last month, he cited pressure in growing revenue “given the overall privacy landscape in 2019.” The company is spending several billion dollars to staff up its security and safety teams, he said at the Morgan Stanley conference.

Over the course of 2018, Facebook had a string of damaging disclosures involving user-information breaches and revelations about its questionable business practices. Lawmakers around the world made a show of demanding answers from Facebook about the lapses and how the company planned to correct course.

Today, Sandberg said, “We’re running the company in fundamentally in a very different way” with a major focus on stopping abuses of its platform, Sandberg said.

“As we were building the business, we didn’t put enough resources and enough investment into preventing harm,” she said. “As we were growing the business, we were very focused on all the good it can do, and all the good it still does every single day. And I think we didn’t foresee some of the ways the platform could be abused, and that’s on us.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first announced the plans for a “clear history” tool in May 2018 at the company’s F8 developer conference, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which the consulting firm misappropriated info on millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or consent. He didn’t provide a specific launch date for the clear-history feature.

Zuckerberg explained it this way in a post last year: “In your web browser, you have a simple way to clear your cookies and history. The idea is a lot of sites need cookies to work, but you should still be able to flush your history whenever you want. We’re building a version of this for Facebook too. It will be a simple control to clear your browsing history on Facebook — what you’ve clicked on, websites you’ve visited, and so on.” Zuckerberg also noted that if users clear their history, “Your Facebook won’t be as good while it relearns your preferences.”

The prospect of additional government regulations continue to hang in the air over Facebook and other internet companies. On Tuesday, the FTC announced a new task force to monitor technology firms that will investigate “any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets” and take action.

Sandberg, speaking at the Morgan Stanley conference, said Facebook is advocating for regulation “that is effective — regulation that can prevent harm while still allowing people to have free expression.”

“The big question is really, What kind of internet do we want?” she asked rhetorically. “And I think we’re not going to want an internet that’s out of control or anything goes… but we’re also not going to want an internet that’s too tightly controlled.”

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