Meta's new 'Link History' feature for the Facebook app isn't as protective of your data as it claims

The Meta logo on a smartphone in front of the Facebook logo a little bit blurred in the background
(Image credit: Shutterstock / rafapress)

Meta recently introduced a new feature called 'Link History' to its Facebook app, which stores any links that a user clicks on in a neat little page for later reference. There's also a toggle that allows users to turn this feature off, which in theory prevents Meta from storing this data. But does this feature, and the toggle deactivating it, truly allow you to retain your privacy? Or is it Meta giving you the illusion of choice on its terms?

According to Meta, ‘Link History’ prevents users from losing website links that they click on through the Facebook app, by storing those links in their account. However, a report from Gizmodo explains that the issue is it’s a data tracking feature, as it lets Meta keep tabs on the websites you visit through the social media app as well as track your activity on the website once you’re there.

Meta also has an option to disable this feature, which is purported to be an action that protects you from its tracking and harvesting practices. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case, as Meta has always tracked your links and is only now including this toggle to turn it off. And the toggle itself doesn’t reveal whether it tracks you after you enter a website.

Back in 2022, privacy researcher Felix Krause claimed that Meta uses ‘keylogging’ Javascript on the website you’re visiting, allowing it to monitor everything you type and click, including passwords. This is possible because clicking a link through the Facebook app opens the site in the app’s special browser instead of your phone’s default browser. If Krause was right, this means that toggling the ‘Link History’ feature doesn’t protect your data from the website activity itself from being harvested, making the option quite misleading in the first place.

There’s also the issue of the ‘Link History’ feature not being available for Facebook’s desktop and mobile versions, with the page itself not even being available for viewing. This means that there’s no protection at all when you use anything other than the Facebook app, unless you’ve installed ad blocker and anti-tracking extensions.

A Meta representative reached out to TechRadar with the following statement: "We began rolling this out last summer and are still testing and improving the product. Link History is currently only available for the mobile versions of Facebook and Instagram."

Meta losing the war against data tracking 

It’s fascinating to see how Meta reacts to the tightening around data scraping and tracking, which affects its main revenue streams. We have Google disabling third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, turning them off for roughly 30 million users. Back in 2020, Apple released its sometimes inconsistent yet powerful privacy control for iPhones called App Tracking Transparency, which had a major impact on Meta’s data business.

Not to mention that lawmakers are finally getting with the program and enacting regulations to curb rampant data harvesting from Meta and other tech giants.

However, it seems that Meta is attempting to address privacy concerns in other ways, like offering end-to-end encryption and disappearing messages for Facebook Messenger. Meta could also offer an ad-free subscription model according to a report from the New York Times, which would potentially mean no data tracking for those who opt in to pay for the experience. The EU also has additional laws that would fine Meta if it attempted to force users to consent to data harvesting. 

With all these changes, it seems the ad-free subscription model might be the way to go in the future as Facebook loses more options to collect and store user data and drive its ad-targeting business.

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Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.