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Facebook’s new privacy feature seems great… but it will still track everything you do online

Published Jan 29th, 2020 6:50AM EST
Facebook Privacy
Image: Jenny Kane/AP/Shutterstock

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If you’ve ever wanted more control over the data Facebook collects about you, then you can pretend to have it, just as Facebook is pretending it’s giving that control to you. Facebook announced that it let you decouple all the data it gathers from your off-Facebook internet browsing habits from your profile, not that it’ll stop collecting that data. It’s just that the two separate piles of data Facebook gets will not be connected, which is all the control over your data that Facebook is ready to relinquish.

The new privacy-conscious Mark Zuckerberg said in a shorter than usual post that Facebook is giving you more control over your privacy. It’s not a complete lie, as you can at least uncouple those two streams of information from merging under Facebook’s algorithms and then haunt you with super-personalized ads. But the claim is still misleading because Facebook makes it sound like it’ll stop collecting that data:

As of today, our Off-Facebook Activity tool is available to people on Facebook around the world. Other businesses send us information about your activity on their sites and we use that information to show you ads that are relevant to you. Now you can see a summary of that information and clear it from your account if you want to.

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.

Here’s what Facebook means by off-Facebook activity — yes, it’s practically another confirmation that Facebook collects data about everyone, not just Facebook users:

Image source: Facebook

I know what you’re thinking, we’re all Jane.

To access your off-Facebook data, you need to head over to this link. That’s where you’ll be able to manage your off-Facebook activity, clear off-Facebook history, and manage your future activity. That’s right, you’ll have to go into each of the separate settings to ensure that you’ve uncoupled past data from the sites you visit from past data related to your on-Facebook activity and that Facebook stops doing it in the future.

When you clear History, Facebook tells you that it’ll keep getting data from the sites you visit when you’re not on Facebook. Moreover, you’ll still see the same number of ads, but they’ll be customized using only data from Facebook activity:

Image source: Facebook

The Future Activity prompt is even more interesting. It tells you most of the stuff you’ve read above but adds a crucial detail. If you disconnect off- and on-Facebook data, you won’t be able to log into apps and websites with Facebook, because your activity will be disconnected from your account:

Image source: Facebook

You can and should download a copy of that data that Facebook collected about you to see exactly how much information makes its way into those ad algorithms.

The sensible thing to do is to click on those Clear History and Turn Off buttons as fast as you can. Dracarys!

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.