Facebook has launched its “Off-Facebook Activity” tool in the UK and other regions, giving users more transparency and a degree of control over data collected on their activities beyond the social media platform, according to BBC News.
Many websites and apps collect data on a user’s activity and send it to Facebook, where it’s linked to their profile to power the platform’s micro-targeted advertising. This can include data such as contact information that’s provided to other websites by the user, as well as other online activity, and even data from purchases with offline retailers, tracked through methods like loyalty and membership programs.
Ultimately, Facebook is able to collect a great deal of personal data on its users, which other companies can then use to target advertising to reach users most likely to be interested in their product.
Facebook’s business model is built on this advertising revenue, and yet it’s faced mounting criticism over data collection practices since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
The new tool was announced in August, as part of Facebook’s response to the public backlash. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg first discussed offering a “clear history” tool in 2018, shortly after the data sharing revelations first broke.
The feature offers users a summary of which third-party sites have collected data, the specific interactions recorded, and how the data was received by Facebook. Users can choose to disconnect each third-party from their Facebook profile, either one by one, or all at once.
Users that “clear” this data will see fewer personalized ads on their timeline, and may be logged out of third-party sites and apps.
The tool won’t permanently delete data collected from users, it will just sever the data’s connection to their Facebook profile. It also doesn’t prevent future data sharing by the same third parties.
A separate “manage future connections” feature allows some control over future data collection, but will prevent the use of Facebook Login for third-party sites.
And even this step won’t actually prevent data collection. Facebook builds “shadow profiles” with the same types of personal data, on individuals without a Facebook account. Preventing data from being linked to your established account won’t stop it from being collected in the first place.
Facebook says it will begin prompting users to review their privacy settings, and earlier this month, began alerting users of any activity through Facebook Login, which allows third-party sites to connect to users’ profiles.