Facebook to allow users control data websites share with social network

Users will be able to see activity linked to browsing on other websites

Giving users the option to delete that information will mean fewer advertisements for products you have been browsing following you around the web. Photograph: PA

Giving users the option to delete that information will mean fewer advertisements for products you have been browsing following you around the web. Photograph: PA

 

Facebook is planning to address user concerns over the tracking of their online activity advertisers by giving users control over data which apps and websites share with the social network about their activity elsewhere on the web.

Dubbed “Off-Facebook Activity”, the feature allows users to see any activity linked with their Facebook account from browsing on other websites or apps, clear that from their Facebook account and stop it from associating any future activity on their devices with their Facebook profile. The data is gathered by businesses using certain Facebook tools on their apps and websites to the social network, based on device identifiers. The information is valuable to Facebook and businesses because it can be used to target advertising to individual accounts.

“This is how much of the internet works, but given that the average person with a smartphone has more than 80 apps and uses about 40 of them every month, it can be really difficult for people to keep track of who has information about them and what it’s used for,” Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, wrote in a blogpost.

For example, if you browse an online shoe shop on a shared tablet, that information could then be used to service ads for footwear to you. However, any other activity on that same tablet, searches carried out by a family member, for example, could also wind up associated with your account.

Giving users the option to delete that information will mean fewer advertisements for products you have been browsing following you around the web. The effect this might have on the network’s advertising revenues remains to be seen.

However, it won’t delete the data from Facebook’s servers permanently; it will only unlink it from your account.

“If you clear your off-Facebook activity, we’ll remove your identifying information from the data that apps and websites choose to send us,” the blog post, co-authored by David Baser, director of product management, said.

“We won’t know which websites you visited or what you did there, and we won’t use any of the data you disconnect to target ads to you on Facebook, Instagram or Messenger.

Three countries

Off-Facebook Activity is being rolled out in three countries – the Republic, South Korea, and Spain – as a test before becoming available other countries.

The new feature has been a while in the making. Off-Facebook Activity was announced as “Clear History” at the company’s F8 developer conference last year.

Facebook said it was part of a move towards transparency and control on its platform, with a number of other features such as allowing people to see why they are being targeted by particular ads on the platform.

The company has been hit by a number of privacy scandals in recent years, and is facing further scrutiny from the Data Protection Commission over reports that the social media company paid contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its Messenger app.