Facebook recently made available a new tool enabling better management of our personal data shared outside of its platform. “Off-Facebook Activity” is a tool that lets you manage the data you share outside of Facebook. This data is traditionally accumulated through Facebook pixel, the log-in module or even its SDK (software development kit) and enables the measurement of user activity in a mobile application. Since we rarely use the words “Facebook” and “transparency” in the same sentence, it goes without saying that this news caught my attention. So I decided to test the tool in order to see whether it was not just easy to access, but also easy to use. It also allowed me to answer a big question that’s been on everyone’s mind: Does Facebook really care enough about its users to offer them better control over their personal data?
Crafty web user that I am, my first reflex was to visit the Parameters section of my Facebook account. Many of you will tell me that’s a pretty obvious choice, but between you and me, how often do we really even visit that section?
I took advantage of the opportunity to freshen up my account by updating my profile info, and especially who would be able to access it. From now on, only my friends can know that I grew up in Terrebonne (and, now, you as well). I instinctively navigated to the Your Facebook Information section and found Off-Facebook activity.
By clicking on Display I landed on the next page, which explains what off-Facebook activity is. After a quick read-through (since between you and me, I really just want to know who has access to my data), it took just one click on Manage your off-Facebook activity to find what I was looking for! My mood definitely improved.
I quickly learned that a total of 665 third parties had collected and shared my activity outside Facebook from July 2019 to the present, but I was also told that this was only an overview and that some of my activity could not appear in this section!
I won’t lie—that kind of made my blood run cold. Nevertheless, I started looking through the module and saw that, in order to cut ties with a partner, I had to click on the partner’s tab and then choose to deactivate future activity for that partner. There was no obvious way to manage this en masse and I quickly became discouraged that I would have to go through them all one by one. With three clicks needed for every deleted partner, removing a quarter of all the partners would require 500 clicks, and honestly, life is too short. So the option Erase history started looking really good. Now that’s what you call starting from zero (shout-out to Jo Bocan!).
Note that deleting your history will not stop any future activity from partners. To be sure they are completely blocked, you have to click on the Manage Future Activity tab, which will take you to a new section where you need to de-select Future Off-Facebook activity. That means none of your activity will be tracked by a partner.
So was managing your off-Facebook activity worth the effort? That depends. If you’ve ever stressed over the idea of being retargeted by an ad from a site you just visited, this option is for you. If not, deleting your activity will mainly affect the personalization of your advertising messages. Basically, by withdrawing from having your activity tracked, you remove yourself from partner remarketing audiences. However, you can still be targeted by one of these partners, since you’ll inevitably be part of Facebook’s third-party audience. So if you feel like crying when you see ads for a product you already purchased, then withdrawing is maybe not the best idea!
To conclude, Facebook has often been singled out (with good reason) for its deficiencies in personal data management for users. By offering more control to users so they can manage their own data, Facebook is, in my opinion, trying to polish up its image and demonstrate a kind of empathy with them. Overall, this new tool is far from revolutionizing the way users can ensure better control over their personal data. After all, Facebook will continue to track us through its app, and your data will always be used by the platform for monetization purposes, since that’s what they know best!