Facebook Tool Shows Users Which Websites Have Tracked Them

The Associated Press
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

A Facebook tool rolling out in the coming months will allow users to see which apps and websites have tracked them and shared their personal data with Facebook while they were not using the social media platform.

Facebook announced its new tool, “Off-Facebook Activity,” on Tuesday, stating that users will now be able to better see and control the information that the company has collected regarding their online behavior while they are not on the social media platform.

The social media company gathers data by tracking browsing habits — even while users are not using Facebook — with tracking cookies installed on separate apps and websites. This strengthens Facebook’s targeted advertising services with other businesses, and allows for the creation of so-called “shadow profiles” for people not on the platform.

According to Facebook, the new Off-Facebook Activity tool will allow users to see which companies are sending their personal data back to Facebook, and remove the apps and websites that they want to be no longer sharing data.

“This is another way to give people more transparency and control on Facebook,” affirmed the social media platform in a recent blog post.

“Many apps and websites are free because they’re supported by online advertising,” explained Facebook. “And to reach people who are more likely to care about what they are selling, businesses often share data about people’s interactions on their websites with ad platforms and other services.”

The company added that the average person typically has more than 80 apps on their smartphone — of which they use about half of them every month — and that “it can be really difficult for people to keep track of who has information about them and what it’s used for.”

The new tool appears to be the latest response to the backlash Facebook has received after it was discovered that the company allowed the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica to allegedly misuse the data for 50 million of its users.

Last year, it was reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had lost more money in 2018 than any of the top billionaires in the world, with losses estimated at $19 billion. In July of 2019, the company agreed to change its practices regarding the handling of user data, as well as pay a $5 billion fine to the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations.

The Off-Facebook Activity tool — which Facebook says will be gradually rolled out in the coming months — will be found in the “Settings” menu on the Facebook app.

Once accessed, users will be able to view their itemized browsing history, and choose whether they want to delete data from specific apps and websites, or delete their entire browsing history in full. The tool will also allow users to prohibit data-sharing from all of the companies in the future.

“If this were widely adopted, it would mean less overall revenue for Facebook,” said director of product management David Baser to the New York Times. “And that’s O.K.”

The report added that the new Off-Facebook Activity tool will not be a “cure-all” for users concerned about their privacy on Facebook, as all of their browsing data will still be collected by the company on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.

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