Facebook is finally going to allow users to "disconnect" the information that other websites are sharing with Facebook about their online activity.
On Tuesday, the Silicon Valley tech giant formally announced the launch of its "Off-Facebook Activity" tool, which for the first time provides controls for how data collected elsewhere on the web about them can be used by the social network.
The feature arrives following two years of successive scandals for Facebook and rising scrutiny over how it handles user data, and has been a long time coming. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first announced it at the F8 developer conference in the Spring of 2018 - calling it "Clear History" at the time - though BuzzFeed subsequently reported that the announcement was largely a PR move in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Well over a year later, it's now launching - but the vast majority of Facebook users will still have to wait even longer. For now, it's launching only in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain, with a broader launch promised in the "coming months."
Facebook gathers large quantities of data from other websites across the internet to build up detailed profiles on its users. In a blog post announcing the news, chief privacy officer Erin Egan gave an example: "Imagine a clothing website wants to show ads to people who are interested in a new style of shoes. They can send Facebook information saying someone on a particular device looked at those shoes. If that device information matches someone's Facebook account, we can show ads about those shoes to that person."
There will be three components to the Off-Facebook Activity tool. First, users will be able to see a "summary" of info that Facebook has accumulated about them from other apps and websites. Second, they can "disconnect" this info from their account. And lastly, they can disable all off-Facebook activity if they want, "or just for specific apps and websites."
"If you clear your off-Facebook activity, we'll remove your identifying information from the data that apps and websites choose to send us," Egan wrote. 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. We expect this could have some impact on our business, but we believe giving people control over their data is more important."
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