Rarely do we talk about Facebook and privacy in the same sentence and not refer to a data breach or some sort of election interference. But the social media giant has finally put out a tool to provide some transparency into how you’re being served ads. And now you have the power to opt out of that digital surveillance.
Off-Facebook Activity, as the privacy tool is being called, provides a summary of all of the data that Facebook acquires from watching your activity across sites and apps, both on mobile and through your regular browser. Strangely, though, it looks like you can only access the new privacy settings through the mobile app.
Users in some countries like Ireland and South Korea have had access to these new privacy settings since August. For the rest of us, it’s all brand new. So how does it work?
Grab your smartphone now, because you can’t do this from a laptop or desktop. To start, tap on the hamburger menu on the top right-hand side of the screen, then scroll down to Settings. Continue down that page until you see Off Facebook Activity under the Your Facebook Information tab and tap again.
Next, you’ll be guided to a page that explains how the new settings work. Off-Facebook Activity includes information that businesses and organizations outside the Facebook app have collected on you. For instance, you may have bought a pair of shoes from Nike’s website three months ago. The retailer shares your activity with Facebook and it’s saved to your account. That’s saved as something like “Jane visited the Nike website” and “made a purchase.”
You have three choices for what to do next: You can manage your Off-Facebook activity, meaning you can select which companies can and can’t share information with Facebook, clear the history altogether, view your information by category, download details about your browsing that Facebook has collected for its ad business, and manage future activity—like stopping the data collection altogether.
I decided to first look at how many sites were sending my data to Facebook. The number shocked me: 908 (!), including everything from iRobot to Audible to Sephora.
While I’d love to tell you exactly what Facebook gleaned from my browsing activity on the site, the data dump isn’t instantaneous. You request a copy of the data and then it appears as a “pending” request. You can adjust the length of time and the types of data you’d like to see, which could very well speed up the process. I decided to request everything they had on me for the entire life of my account, which is apparently almost 11 years’ worth of data. We’ll update this story once I receive my data, so you can get an idea of how long the process can be.
To turn off data sharing from sites to your account altogether, tap More Options from the main page for Your Off-Facebook Activity, and then select Manage Future Activity. If you’ve been tinkering around, you’ll need to tap the back arrow a few times to return to this page. When you turn the slider off for all data sharing, you’ll see the page pictured above as a warning of sorts: It can take up to 48 hours for the changes to go into effect; Facebook will still receive data about your activity across sites, but it won’t be saved to your account; you may be logged out of a bunch of apps; and while you’ll still see ads, they just won’t be personalized.