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Facebook Introduces New Feature To Give Users More Control of Data Sharing

Inc. logo Inc. 8/26/2019 Peter Roesler
a hand holding a cellphone and using a laptop computer: data security concept, login and password © Getty Images data security concept, login and password

Off-Facebook Activity feature makes it easier to see how your Facebook data is used and to control who can use it.

Over the past few years, consumers have become more concerned about the ways their data is used online. Facebook is a frequent target of criticisms about data privacy since data from the social network is used to power ads and other targeted campaigns online. Similarly, data gleaned from Facebook activity was also shared with other apps without it being apparent to the user that this was happening. Last week, Facebook introduced new features that would make it easier for users to see how their data is used and gives users more control over how and when their information is used.

Facebook is introducing a new feature called Off Facebook Activity, which makes it more evident how and when other sources use data from Facebook. The feature will be an improvement over the current privacy settings that provide similar functions but may be confusing to users.

In a post announcing the new feature, Facebook explained, “To help shed more light on these practices that are common yet not always well understood, today we’re introducing a new way to view and control your off-Facebook activity. Off-Facebook Activity lets you see a summary of the apps and websites that send us information about your activity, and clear this information from your account if you want to.”

The Off-Facebook Activity feature will make it much easier to see where a user’s Facebook data is being used and to control that usage in the future. With Off-Facebook Activity, users will be able to “see a summary of the information other apps and websites have sent Facebook through our online business tools, like Facebook Pixel or Facebook Login.” Users will also have the option to disconnect this information from their account if they want to.

Users will also have significantly more control over how their data is collected and used in the future. There will be an option to disconnect future off-Facebook activity from an account in a highly-target way. Users can disconnect all of their off-Facebook activity, or just for specific apps and websites.

Interestingly, this new feature isn’t making its debut in North America. The announcement says Facebook will gradually roll out the feature in Ireland, Spain, and South Korea first. The company says the feature will roll out worldwide over the coming months. The staggered launch should give Facebook more time to work out any issues with the Off-Facebook Activity feature.

Once the feature becomes widely available, it will be interesting to see how often people use it and how far they go. Many consumers may not care enough about the issue to bother fine-tuning their settings. Furthermore, people may discover that using the Off-Facebook Activity feature may diminish their experience on other websites. We may find that most people leave their setting as they are and only turn off sharing with a few problematic sites. Or, it could be the inverse where users turn off all sharing except for on a few websites that they've approved.

Giving users the ability to opt-out of data sharing may seem like a massive concession from Facebook, but the move is unlikely to affect the company's bottom line significantly. Facebook's data makes it possible to create highly targeted campaigns, but the Facebook Ad network is still valuable to marketers even without the hyper-targeting.

Even if Facebook were randomly showing ads on its platform, the ad space would still be valuable, and businesses would continue to buy ads via Facebook. Users who take advantage of the Off-Facebook Activity feature won't see fewer ads when they're online or using apps. It's just that the apps they see will be less relevant to them personally.

Though it's overall impact is hard to predict, the Off-Facebook Activity feature could be a game-changer, and it certainly represents a considerable shift in the way people control their Facebook data. For more recent news about Facebook, read this article on a recent change the company made to simplify group admin privacy settings.

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