By Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, and David Baser, Director of Product Management
Many apps and websites are free because they’re supported by online advertising. And to reach people who are more likely to care about what they are selling, businesses often share data about people’s interactions on their websites with ad platforms and other services. This is how much of the internet works, but given that the average person with a smartphone has more than 80 apps and uses about 40 of them every month, it can be really difficult for people to keep track of who has information about them and what it’s used for.
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. This is another way to give people more transparency and control on Facebook, along with recent updates to our Ad Library, updates to “Why am I seeing this ad?” and the launch of a new feature called “Why am I seeing this post?”.
What Is Off-Facebook Activity?
Imagine a clothing website wants to show ads to people who are interested in a new style of shoes. They can send information to Facebook 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. To explain this further, we put together some resources here.
With Off-Facebook Activity, you can see and control the data that other apps and websites share with Facebook. You can:
- See a summary of the information other apps and websites have sent Facebook through our online business tools, like Facebook Pixel or Facebook Login;
- Disconnect this information from your account if you want to; and
- Choose to disconnect future off-Facebook activity from your account. You can do this for all of your off-Facebook activity, or just for specific apps and websites.
We are starting by gradually making Off-Facebook Activity available to people in Ireland, South Korea and Spain. We will continue to roll it out everywhere over the coming months to help ensure it’s working reliably for everyone.
(Updated on August 20, 2019 at 11:40AM PT to include additional screenshots of the product.)
What Happens When You Clear Your Off-Facebook Activity
If you clear your off-Facebook activity, we’ll remove your identifying information from the data that apps and websites choose to send us. 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.
When you visit Off-Facebook Activity, you’ll see the websites and apps that you use regularly, but you might also see some services that you don’t recognize. For example, a website you didn’t visit could show up because a friend looked it up on your phone. Or because you share a home computer with your partner and kids. To help answer common questions people might have, we have additional information in our Help Center.
How We Built This and What’s Next
Since Off-Facebook Activity is a new kind of tool, there was no template for us to follow. Our engineering teams redesigned our systems and built a new way for them to process information. We also conducted months of research to get input from people, privacy advocates, policymakers, advertisers and industry groups. We made important changes in response to what we learned. For example, several months into our product development, people asked for a way to disconnect future online activity from individual businesses — not just all at once. We also heard from privacy experts that it was important to be able to reconnect a specific app or website while keeping other future activity turned off. We decided to build these options so people could have a better product, even though it delayed our rollout.
“As part of Unilever’s Responsibility Framework, we are committed to creating a better digital ecosystem working with our partners. The Off-Facebook Activity tool aims to provide people with greater transparency and control over their own data, helping to improve their online experience. We support this step from Facebook and encourage them and all industry players to continue in the journey to build back trust in the advertising ecosystem.”
— Luis Di Como, EVP Global Media, Unilever
This feature marks a new level of transparency and control, and we’ll keep improving. We welcome conversations with privacy experts, policymakers and other companies about how to continue building tools like this.