Facebook releases ‘Off-Facebook’ privacy tool allowing you to see, and delete, how you’re tracked

To align with Data Privacy Day, Facebook has released its promised ‘Clear History’ button. How does this change the way your data is tracked?

Facebook Privacy Checkup tool
Facebook will be prompting all users to revisit the updated Privacy Checkup tool. Image: Facebook

Clear History

Mark Zuckerberg first released the concept of the ‘Clear History’ button back in March 2018. The changes were finally launched yesterday.

This idea was introduced prior to the 2018 F8 conference. In response to concerns over the control of our data, the button would clear data held showing apps and websites visited and interacted with.

We know that sometimes, our data is extremely valuable for our own benefit. This includes functions such as Facebook Disaster Maps, made accessible by the platform to disaster relief agencies within 24-hours of a crisis emerging.

However, the fact remains that ownership of personal data should sit with the individual. Having the option to control how and where that data is used is essential.

Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote
Mark Zuckerberg talked about a ‘Clear History’ function prior to F8 in 2018. Image: Flickr

Data Privacy Day

Doesn’t it seem that there is a day for everything now? Data Privacy Day falls yearly on 28th January. It was introduced in 2006 and is marked in the US, Canada, Israel and 47 European countries.

Zuckerberg says:

One of our main goals for the next decade is to build much stronger privacy protections for everyone on Facebook. We know we have a lot of work to do here, which is why this is such a priority for our teams and for me personally.

Privacy controls

The new functions have three aspects, with the first being prompts for all Facebook users to review their privacy settings.

Facebook will encourage ‘nearly 2 billion people’ to follow a prompt in their News Feed which links to the Privacy Checkup tool. The updated tool allows users to decide who sees their posts and information, turn on login alerts and review access granted to other apps.

This is one of a number of Facebook changes to empower users to have more control over their own data. We reported earlier this month on updates to the Ad Library to help Facebook users decide what ads they do, and do not, see on the platform.

Off-Facebook Activity tool
The Off-Facebook Activity tool gives you the option of wiping all data held about you. Image: Facebook

Third-party use

The other changes announced yesterday relate to how third-party apps use your data, and how Facebook uses off-platform information to target advertising.

Off-Facebook Activity is a tool that collates information from third-party partners. This is used to target ads that appear in your news feed. Now you can see a summary of that information, and clear it from your account. Zuckerberg explains:

Off-Facebook Activity marks a new level of transparency and control. We’ve been working on this for a while because we had to rebuild some of our systems to make this possible.

As well as being able to wipe your data, additional alerts called Login Notifications have been rolled out. These send you a notification when a Facebook login is used to access any third-party app or service. The idea is to make sure you know where and how your login is being used.

These all sound like common sense tools to me, and really controls that we should have had all along over how our data is used. However, with big plans for 2020, it sounds like Facebook are trying to get ahead of the curve with user-friendly features.

Do you think these changes will make a big difference in how you use your Facebook account? What other privacy controls would you like to see introduced?

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