Facebook to stop stalking you off-site – but only if asked

Facebook is drawing back the veil to show what data it collects on users.

Many may not like what they see.

A feature in settings called Off-Facebook Activity will show all the apps and websites that send information about you to Facebook, which is then used to target ads more effectively.

You will also be able to clear your history and prevent your future off-app behaviour being tapped. But one expert said the move was unlikely to have a big impact on the firm’s profits.

For now, it is rolling out very slowly, with only Ireland, South Korea and Spain getting access. But the goal is to eventually offer it globally.

The initiative comes at a time when Apple and Mozilla have already taken steps to prevent Facebook and other services from tracking users from one online platform to another via their browsers.

In addition, Germany’s competition regulator had told the firm it needed to substantially restrict the way it collected and combined data about its members unless it sought more explicit consent than it had done.

Shared interests

Facebook collects data from beyond its platform either because you have opted to use the social media site to log in to an app or, more likely because a website uses something called Facebook Pixel to track your activities.

This is why when you browse a website for new shoes, you find an ad popping up in your Facebook Newsfeed half-an-hour later telling you about that nifty pair of boots you’ve just been looking at.

The Off-Facebook Activity setting will let you drill down into exactly what data various apps or sites are sharing about you – Facebook says the average smartphone user has 80 apps and uses 40 of them every month, so the list could belong.

You will then be able to disconnect the data from your Facebook profile – either the whole lot or singling out individual sources. If you take advantage of this, it should mean that those shoe ads stop following you across the internet in quite such a persistent fashion.

It is important to stress that Facebook will still collect the data, but it will be anonymised – they may know that lots of people have been looking at those boots but they won’t know that they include you.

Off-Facebook Activity has been more than a year in the making and fulfills a pledge made by Mark Zuckerberg at last year’s F8 developer conference to give users greater control over how their data is used.

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