Facebook has now announced it would provide all its users a privacy tool — “Off-Facebook Activity”, which lets them delete the data that third-party websites and apps share with Facebook for targeted advertising.
The feature was initially rolled out at Facebook’s annual developer conference in 2018 but was available to users only in a few countries. Back then, it was called Clear History, akin to browser terminology. To now clarify that the tool helps with enhancing user data privacy. The tool not only deletes user activity or history but also gives more freedom to the users of the biggest social media company.
Formally launched at Data Privacy Day, the tool is a sign that Facebook is taking serious steps to enhance its user data privacy. Earlier, the issue of third party sharing the user data led to multiple controversies such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal which made a big dent in Facebook’s image in the public eye. Nevertheless, the company has remained profitable and making advancements in areas like artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, virtual reality, to name a few. Given data privacy is a rising end-user concern, and such a tool was long overdue.
Facebook explained how other businesses send Facebook data about all user activity on their sites and apps, which Facebook then uses to exhibit personalised ads on their ad marketplace similar to Google ads also work. With the new Off-Facebook Activity tool, users can keep track of the summary of that information and clear it from your account if they like. Users can then wish to break the third-party’s link to Facebook or to have a 3rd party app third-party to delete data it has harvested on a user.
Is The Tool A Bane For Targeting Advertising?
Targeted advertising is a form of advertising, which is aimed at users with particular personalised traits, based on the product or a user the advertiser is marketing to, using search history, browser history, purchase history, or online activity on social media.
The majority of targeted media advertising presently leverage second-order proxies for targets, such as tracking online or mobile online activities of users, linking historical web page consumer demographics with new consumer web page access, utilising search words as the basis for a particular interest, and contextual advertising.
With more contextual advertising and less targeted advertising, Facebook’s reliance on third-party data providers have anyway been reducing over the last few years. Besides, given Facebook’s powerful AI capabilities, the company would need smaller sets of user data for its advertising business. Other companies like Google are evaluating federated learning of cohorts (FLoC), which uses federated learning — a more privacy-focused form of machine learning for showing ads based on instead of tracking users individually.
A Positive Step For Data Privacy
According to experts, this could be a positive step in the right direction and probably a milestone for other social media companies to learn from. This is because it is the first tool of its kind to let users log off from third party data tracking, thus prompting advertising-driven companies to follow suit. At the same time, others say it would also be more useful for users if companies also let users know their data sharing practices as most companies don’t openly promote that they already share with Facebook.
Facebook had to revamp its systems to get the tool out, and in coming weeks, it is expected that the Off-Facebook Activity tool will be the new highlight of new privacy settings on Facebook and show up in the News’ Feed as an alert.
Nevertheless, the tool doesn’t stop third parties to collect user data makes it accessible to users to know which company is collecting data on them and then sharing it with Facebook. That way, the onus is also on third-party apps to be responsible and ethical is their data collection of end-users for targeted advertising. Also, it is to be noted that a clear history button doesn’t prevent the third-parties from data-sharing later on. With the button, the user data access will be blocked as the user gets logged out from 3rd party apps.
Users are usually unable to access and keep track of all the various sites and apps collecting and sharing data because the total number of such third-party apps could be in tens and potentially hundreds. All the various digital services Facebook users have outside of the social media platform would be collecting and sharing data on the ad marketplace. Try the tool to know which of your favourite and loyal companies are tracking you off your Instagram.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.