Off-Facebook Activity: What is it and should you be worried?
Lately, I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook about the ‘Off-Facebook activity’ feature with captions saying that the social media giant can track what you’re doing outside Facebook, including bank apps, email, and Google searches. But what is the ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ feature, and should you be worried about your data? Let’s find out.
When did it roll out?
On January 28, 2020, or the Data Privacy Day, Facebook introduced new features for the platform that gives users more control over their data and privacy. These are the Alerts for Third-Party Logins and Off-Facebook Activity.
Mark Zuckerberg explained in an article that other businesses send Facebook information about user activity on their sites. Facebook then uses that information to show targeted ads. The Off-Facebook Activity tool shows you a summary of that information and allows you to clear it from your account if you want to.
Zuckerberg says that it “marks a new level of transparency and control.”
How Facebook receives data
In case you’re not aware yet, Facebook makes money through ads. And to make those ads effective, they utilize available user data so they can show ads that are relevant to users.
If you’re using Facebook, the company already has information about your activity on the platform. What most people don’t know is that Facebook can gather data outside the platform, even from people that don’t have a Facebook account.
Facebook published an article on April 16, 2018, explaining what data it collects when you’re not using Facebook, and why. In a nutshell, Facebook gets its data about people from other websites and apps.
“When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook.”
“Apps and websites that use our services, such as the Like button or Facebook Analytics, send us information to make their content and ads better.”
Facebook also receives information from other businesses and organizations using Facebook tools such as Facebook Pixel, Facebook SDK, and Facebook Login and Account Kit.
Businesses and organizations use these tools to help them understand how their website, app, or ads are performing. Facebook will then use the data to make ads more effective.
To simplify, businesses and organizations use Facebook’s tools to gather data from their users. The data is then shared with Facebook, which in turn uses it to create more effective ads.
You know what they say, “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”
The purpose of the Off-Facebook tool
Before Facebook introduced this feature, users have no way of seeing what information was being sent to Facebook from other apps and websites. The Off-Facebook Activity tool gives you a window to that activity and some degree of control by letting you clear your off-Facebook activity from your account. However, the effect is just similar to clearing your browser history or going incognito.
What happens when you clear or switch off your off-Facebook activity from your account?
Facebook mentions in the app that when you disconnect your account from off-Facebook activity (which may take 48 hours), the company will CONTINUE TO RECEIVE your activity from the businesses and organizations you visit in the future. The information is just not connected to your account.
It will also log you out of apps and websites where you logged in using Facebook. It will also prevent you from logging into apps and websites with Facebook.
And you will still see the same number of ads. Since you’re still using Facebook, the company will use your current ad preferences, as well as the actions you take on Facebook, to show you relevant ads.
Does Facebook have access to your banking apps, online transactions, email, and browser history?
The posts circulating on Facebook about Off-Facebook Activity have these concerns, but is it true? I checked my Off-Facebook activity and saw 623 apps and websites that have shared my activity. I don’t think I have the time to go through all those apps, but saw a couple of my e-wallets there. Tapping/clicking on the said apps will reveal that my activity was shared to Facebook through its business tools, as well as the number of interactions they received and what kind.
Here’s the blind spot. Facebook doesn’t show the exact interactions and can only give you examples such as:
• Opening an app.
• Logging into an app with Facebook.
• Viewing content.
• Searching for an item.
• Adding an item to a shopping cart.
• Making a purchase.
You can download your activity details but only in bulk and not per app or website. In a way, it becomes your responsibility to go through that data and find out what those activities are. But Facebook has this to say about how they handle the information:
• We don’t sell your information to anyone.
• We prohibit businesses or organizations to share sensitive information with us, such as health and financial information, your date of birth and passwords. If we determine that a business or an organization is violating our terms, we will take action against that business or organization.
Basically, you’ll have to take Facebook’s word for it and hope that the online services you use don’t share your sensitive information.
Should you be worried and what can you do?
There’s no need to panic or worry, but you should be mindful of what you share online. This is not just with Facebook but other applications as well.
If you think your off-Facebook activity shouldn’t be connected to your Facebook account, you can go ahead and clear the history: Settings –> Off-Facebook activity –> Clear history.
Or switch off future activity: Settings –> Off-Facebook activity –> More options –>Manage Future Activity –> toggle off Future Off-Facebook Activity.
But if you’re worried about the security of your banking apps and other accounts like Gmail, then be more responsible by making sure to choose strong passwords and enable 2FA. You should also practice safe browsing and be familiar with the hacking methods used by cybercriminals, so you don’t become a victim. Deactivating the Off-Facebook activity feature is NOT an all-in-one solution to that.
• Starting the Decade by Giving You More Control Over Your Privacy
• Hard Questions: What Data Does Facebook Collect When I’m Not Using Facebook, and Why?
• Facebook off-activity