I’ve Got The Power: Facebook Is Now Letting Users Block Data-Gathering Offsite
A week without a breach of privacy is a good week at Facebook HQ. The social media platform has become so synonymous with mining our online activity for data used to target advertisers that our distrust of the site has become something of a meme, illustrated with Mark Zuckerberg’s forlorn expression during the Cambridge Analytica trial.
But now it seems the company is looking to move past that and once again cement itself in the good graces of the public. The platform announced that it will be launching a long-awaited tool that allows users to limit what Facebook gathers about them on outside websites and apps.
Facebook will add a new section to the platform where users can also view the activity the platform tracks outside its service via the “like” button and various other means. Users can then choose to turn off the tracking or keep it on and have their data continued to be tracked in the same manner.
It all sounds great, particularly when Facebook has long been embroiled in data issues. It seems the platform has (finally) learned that in order to keep its audience actively engaged and using the site, it has to meet the demands – which today, are those of transparency. We want transparent data tracking; we want companies and social platforms to communicate what it is they are intending to do with the information and how it is gained.
But even knowing this, and even with the launch of a new tool designed to allow us to take back control of our private data, it will be interesting to see if we actually use it. It’s a proactive step for consumers too, not just Facebook, and while we continue to bemoan the need for better security online and data protection, whether we actually choose to do anything about it remains to be seen.
With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about the latest development and how it affects your data tracking.
What is it?
Formerly known as “clear history”, the launch of the new tool from Facebook will now go by the name “off-Facebook activity.”
The “clear history” feature was announced more than a year ago by CEO Mark Zuckerberg. However, building the feature proved more technical and complicated than anticipated, and it was a long process for the company. Facebook has said it sought input from users, privacy experts and policymakers along the way, which eventually led to some changes.
The tool will allow you to delete your past browsing history from Facebook and prevent it from keeping track of your clicks and searches in the future. This means Facebook can’t use information gathered from apps and websites to target ads to you on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. It also won’t use the information to show posts that you might like based on offsite activity.
Why does it matter?
For the uninitiated, what you do off Facebook may strike you as something that the social platform would have no interest in, but they do. The reason for this is because all online activity outside of the site is used as information by Facebook to then target ads directly to your online behaviour, interests and frequent searches.
Social media analyst at research firm eMarketer, Jasmine Enberg, said in an interview with ABC News, that the tool launched by Facebook is an effort by the company to be clearer about how it tracks users. As she suggests, it’s also likely to be an “effort to stay one step ahead of regulators, in the U.S. and abroad.”
How does it work?
By blocking the tracking, Facebook would likely deliver fewer ads to users that seem familiar. You know the feeling where you’ve been endlessly scrolling for a new pair of sneakers, online to log onto Facebook and see that pair you’d almost added to cart then stare you in the face. Yeah, that’s Facebook intel for you.
So, instead of that pair of shoes you decided not to purchase, you’ll see something completely unrelated. It’s believed that the number of ads you see on Facebook won’t actually change, nor will how your actions on Facebook are used to show you ads.
It’s important to note however, that even if you turn off tracking, Facebook will still gather data on your off-Facebook activities. It will simply disconnect those activities from your Facebook profile. So, while businesses won’t know you clicked on their ad, they will know that someone did, which allows Facebook to continue to tell advertisers how their ads are performing.
Users will be able to disconnect their activity from a specific website or app, or reconnect to a specific site while keeping other future tracking turned off.
How do you use it?
The feature can be accessed by going to your Facebook settings and scrolling down to “your Facebook information.” The “off-Facebook activity” section will then be there when it launches.