This tool was rolled out in batches to users. It ought to appear for everyone now.
You should know this up front: It’s impossible to completely protect your privacy online. This new tool from Facebook, however, gives you the power to sever the silent connections between your use of Facebook, and everything else you do with apps and sites on your devices.
ICYMI, a Brief History of Facebook’s Data Abuse
Facebook has been caught collecting, using, and sharing data without user consent. They also continue to say it would be somehow unethical to limit known lies shared on their site by groups that they help target you for manipulative paid ads.
In response to getting caught, Facebook promised they’d help users take control. This new “Off-Facebook Activity Tool” is the result. Data privacy experts say it’s not perfect and it’s not comprehensive. For example, you should also use an app’s own settings to opt-out from offering your data to begin with. (See the final section for more about this topic.)
They Say It’s to Enhance Your Experience
On one level it might be a convenience, this data collection sharing. Buy a cup of coffee or check-in at the coffee shop with the coffee shop app, and your Facebook feed offers a coupon from the coffee place, or a competitor, that you can use. That can be cool.
But what if that data point about you isn’t as innocuous as where you get a cup of coffee? Like your health issues as discerned by what you read on a news app, plus put in your shopping cart with the drug store app, and triangulated with where a rideshare app reports you were dropped off? Do you want that info in Facebook’s hands for any purpose, let alone to sell you stuff?
I Use Facebook and Heck Yeah I’m Using this Tool
Facebook provides me with things I find useful and/or fun. I think it’s valuable enough to want to help people protect themselves.
What I like about this tool is that it slows down how rapaciously they profit from selling me as a target for bots. It also gives them a less accurate picture of me to sell to other companies, who, consequently, will also sell that data. When Facebook gives me a tool to hinder their making money with my data, I’m going to use it and recommend everyone does.
It’s one small way to put some distance between what else I do with apps on my devices and Facebook’s long reach.
I also liked finding out which apps I use that are sharing data so I can opt out, or if they don’t offer an opt out, decide whether I need them in my life.
What the Off-Facebook Activity Tool Can Do
With this new tool you can clear the history Facebook has received about your app and site use. Or, you can manage the data – keep the ones you want, and block the ones you don’t want. Allow the coffee shop, block the drug store.
Furthermore, you can manage FUTURE collection of data of this kind. That’s behind a couple of less obvious clicks. I was ever so happy to separate their data collection from being associated with me.
Use a Browser if Possible
I think it’s easier and faster to see everything if you use a browser. This is doable on your phone too, though the clicks may be in different places or in a different order.
Finding the Right Place to Start
Click this link in your browser (https://www.facebook.com/off_facebook_activity/), log in, and you’ll see this page. Or, in the Facebook app, go to Settings, scroll down to “Your Facebook Information” and tap “Off-Facebook Activity.”
The easiest step to take is clicking “Clear History.” That deletes the data collected in the last 180 days. Facebook would love it if that’s all you did. However, read the next section before you do that.
If you game and your activity feeds to Facebook for reasons you know, you really might want to think twice before clearing your entire history. Read the next section.
Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity
If you want to see which apps have been sharing your data, don’t clear your history yet. Click or tap on “Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity” instead, and you’ll see a list of the apps and sites that are offering up your data. You could then, one-by-one, delete or keep each app. If you game, you may want to work through this to preserve data collection for the game.
Yes, you have to do them one-by-one. No handy check box to delete a bunch en masse while leaving a few, alas. I made some notes about which apps I was not happy to see on that list. After I did that, and because I don’t have any reason (like gaming) to want my data to persist, I went back to the previous page and selected Clear History.
Manage Future Off-Facebook Activity
Here’s where they got a little sneaky. You have to click “More Options” to see that you have, well, more options. Like seeing your data by category, or downloading it. And, oh, forever stopping the data coming in being specifically linked to your account.
Click or tap “More Options.” Then click or tap “Manage Future Off-Facebook Activity.”
But wait, there’s one more screen! Do you really want to control your future data collection? Yes you do. Click or tap AGAIN to “Manage Future Activity.”
And then move the toggle to OFF. Again, if you game and that data from an app comes into Facebook and you want that to happen, don’t click OFF. Leave it on, and manage your activity by allowing the gaming apps in and shutting everything else out, and visiting back to the page every half-year to keep your choices up to date.
If you’re using the Facebook app, there’s a disclaimer you’ll see at the bottom of that screen in lighter grey type. (I don’t see this disclaimer in my browser.) It says in part, “We’ll still receive your activity…”
That’s Right, They Still Get Your Data
In fine print on this deep part of the process the privacy protection they’re allowing the user is fully explained. To wit, for each app you block or if you block all of them now and in the future: the only thing this tool does is disconnect the data flowing into Facebook from being linked to your specific account. They’ve known it was you at the coffee shop because an app on the same device told them so. Now they’re not supposed to know it’s you. Okay. We’ll see.
Therefore, if you really want a shot at stopping the flow of your data, make it a habit to always opt out of permissions for 3rd party data sharing every time you download a new app. They opt you in by default, and instantly. They may take 48-hours or longer to opt you out. Don’t delay.
My philosophy is that if they want to make money off me, they’re going to have to work for it.