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May 22, 2020

Privacy Tip of the Week: Use the Off-Facebook Activity Tracker

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Few people in the world praise Facebook for its privacy policies. In fact, the social media giant frequently receives negative press for their data collection practices. One recent incident of a breach of privacy occurred in 2018. At the time, Facebook was implicated with data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica in a massive data breach. The personal data from 87 million Facebook users was obtained improperly by the data firm. As a result, Facebook received a fine of $5 billion dollars and CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised to develop a tool that would allow users to see how Facebook keeps tabs on them. They recently released the tool for public use and named it “Off-Facebook Activity.” But what exactly does it do, and can people make use of it?

  • What is the Off-Facebook Activity tool?
  • Where do I find it?
  • How do I reduce tracking?

What is the Tool?

At its core, the Off-Facebook Activity tool is a list. It includes information about the websites, apps, and stores (online and off) that Facebook knows you visited. The data collected and shown to you covers the last 180 days of activity you conducted off of Facebook. The social media platform gathers this information from partnerships with third-party organizations such as websites, apps, and physical stores. Together, they have an agreement that these third-parties voluntarily share the information they collect about you with Facebook. The main use of this information is to allow Facebook to send you targeted ads.

Although seeing the information Facebook collects about you can be useful to understand how your activities are tracked, many users are frightened by the lack of privacy. Thankfully, the Off-Facebook Activity tracker allows you to manage your data.

Where Do I Find It?

In order to check the online activity Facebook collects about you, you need to know where to find it. Currently, you can take a few quick steps to access your Off-Facebook Activity. You can follow along here for desktop:

  1. Sign in to your Facebook account.
  2. Click the arrow to the right of the top menu bar. A list of options will appear.
  3. Select Settings. In Settings, click Your Facebook Information.
  4. On this page, you’ll be able to view and access a variety of the information Facebook collects about you. 
  5. Click View.

For mobile devices:

  1. Access Facebook through the app.
  2. Tap on the three-line button.
  3. Scroll down to Settings and click it. Then scroll down and tap Off-Facebook Activity under the Your Facebook Information heading. 

How Do I Reduce Tracking?

Once you access the Off-Facebook Activity page, you’ll be presented with information about the feature as well as some options of what to do with it. Facebook offers you five different choices, which can help you view and manage your data. The current options are:

  • Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity: With this option, you will have the most power to view and restrict the information collected about your activities. At first glance, you will see a summary of every organization that collected your information and shared it with Facebook. Many users may be surprised by the sheer volume of data displayed here. In addition to seeing a list of organizations, you can also click on each one to get a more detailed view of how they collected and shared your info with Facebook. From there, you can choose to turn off future activity from a specific organization if you wish. You can also clear your entire history.
  • Clear History: If you want to blanket-delete all collected data about you on your Facebook account, use this function. However, this function does not prevent Facebook from collecting data about you: you simply won’t be able to see it in future. It also does not reduce the amount of ads Facebook shows you.
  • Access Your Information: This feature allows you to see all the data Facebook collects about you within their platform. It includes things such as posts, photos, videos, comments, friends, groups, messages, profile information and more.
  • Download Your Information: If you’d like to have a hard copy of your data, Facebook allows you to download some or all of it, depending on your preferences.
  • Manage Future Activity:  Here, you can turn off Facebook’s ability to save your data to your own account. However, it does not stop collection altogether.

While you can’t stop third parties from sending your activity to Facebook, you can manage the data saved to your own account. However, for true privacy, consider turning off your location services and use a VPN to browse online anonymously.

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