Facebook is changing its policies to allow users to see and control the data that other websites and apps share with the social network to improve targeted advertising.
The company defines the data as “Off-Facebook Activity”.
The new tool enables users to disconnect their Facebook profile from web browsing data and other information the company collects from outside apps and sites.
“We are starting by gradually making Off-Facebook Activity available to people in Ireland, South Korea and Spain,” Facebook executives said in a blog post.
Facebook gathers data in a number of ways, including through tracking software that developers voluntarily add to their websites and apps. This helps make Facebook ads more effective.
Off-Facebook Activity is meant to show people what Facebook has collected, and offering a way to remove it. Users will have to proactively seek out the new feature in their settings, where they’ll see a list of companies and websites that have shared data with Facebook. Users then have two main options:
- Clear all browsing data from their account, which means it will no longer be used for ad targeting.
- Tell Facebook to stop linking this data to their account moving forward. Users can do this holistically, meaning no browsing data will be linked from any app or website, or halt that data pairing for specific apps and websites.
In either instance, Facebook will continue to collect data about people’s browsing activity, and store it on company servers. It just won’t tie that data back to a specific user.
The feature does have limitations. Those who use Facebook’s Login feature to sign into outside apps, for example, cannot separate the data collected from that app from their profile.
Users also can’t clear browsing data on a case by case basis -- that is, you can’t remove a specific web interaction from your account, or remove the browsing data from one particular app or website. Everything must be cleared together.
The social media site said if a user clears their off-Facebook activity, Facebook would remove the user’s identifying information from the data that apps and websites choose to send.
“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.”
Facebook said it expects this could have some impact on its advertising business. The move could make Facebook advertising less accurate and potentially less valuable for marketers. The tech heavyweight has faced criticism from lawmakers and regulators over its privacy practices.
Last month the company agreed to a $5 billion privacy settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The settlement is awaiting court approval.