30 Aug 2019 Is Facebook finally giving us control over our data?
Have you ever looked at a pair of shoes and then gone onto your Facebook newsfeed only to find an ad for that exact same pair of shoes? Well this could all stop very soon – if you want it to. Just last week, Facebook launched a new tool that will allow its users to have more say over how their data is collected and shared. “Off-Facebook Activity” lets users block the social media platform from tracking their online activity on third-party websites and apps.
In the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal last year, the tech giant has been under pressure to make changes. The new tool marks the latest move from Facebook to improve its privacy; writing in a blog post, “this feature marks a new level of transparency and control, and we’ll keep improving”. Mark Zuckerberg first promised a transparency tool for users at the F8 Developers Conference more than a year ago.
For now, the long-anticipated tool will only be available to people in Ireland, South Korea and Spain; with a further roll out to all Facebook users in coming months.
How does off-facebook activity work?
Facebook tracks what you do even when you’re not on Facebook. This is because websites and apps share data with Facebook in order to target people more effectively with advertising. The social network offers different data tools, such as Facebook Pixel, to help websites and apps collect data on you.
Off-Facebook Activity shows you a list of all third-party companies that collect and share information about your online activity with Facebook. You will then be able to disconnect this data from your Facebook profile. Users will also have the option to disconnect future off-Facebook activity for all or specific websites and apps.
But you won’t gain complete control over your data.
If you choose to opt out of tracking, Facebook will continue to collect data on you for 48 hours. But even after the 48 hours have passed, your browsing data won’t be deleted from Facebook’s servers. It merely disassociates the information from your personal profile. “We’ll remove your identifying information from the data that apps and websites choose to send us”, writes Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan. “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”. So, your user data will still be collected – albeit anonymously.
what IMPACT WILL IT HAVE ON Facebook?
Erin Egan admits the new feature “could have some impact on our business, but we believe giving people control over their data is more important”. Facebook has built its business on enabling brands to successfully target people based on their online activity. So, if a sizeable portion of Facebook’s users take advantage of the tool, it will limit the social network’s ability to track users; therefore, restricting its ability to make money through highly-targeted advertising.
But the new tool won’t change the number of ads users see on Facebook. It also won’t change the metrics Facebook sends back to advertisers on the effectiveness of their ads. Users will also need to actively opt out of being tracked – if they can find the new feature amongst the growing stream of privacy settings on the social media platform. Facebook’s revenues are rising fast. So, it’s unlikely that advertisers will desert what has become a major ad platform and therefore, cause any significant damage to Facebook’s ad revenues.
Is it all SMOKE AND MIRRORS?
With mounting data privacy concerns, the launch of “Off-Facebook Activity” demonstrates that Facebook is doing something in the interest of its 2.4 billion active users worldwide. The Clear History tool definitely sends a clear message to regulators that Facebook is taking data privacy seriously.
But behind all the smoke and mirrors, all that this new tool is really doing is mimicking the act of users clearing their data history. No data is actually being cleared or deleted. It’s merely being disconnected from a user’s account, so the data is anonymised.