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Facebook spies on you to serve ads: Stop it with this new tool

Do you know Facebook collects data from other apps and websites that you use to serve you target ads? Luckily there is now a toll to turn your off your off-Facebook activity.

Facebook has launched its off-Facebook activity tool: Here’s what it can do. (Image: Reuters)

All thanks to the user data scandals and rising concerns of privacy, big names in the consumer technology segment are now becoming more transparent with how the user data is stored and used. These companies are also giving users more control over their data among other things to help rebuild the lost trust. One such step comes from Facebook that has officially launched its new Off-Facebook activity tool, which was announced in August last year.

Do you know Facebook tracks you even when you are not using the platform? Several companies supply Facebook with information about your real-world activity like when you visited their website or purchased a product from it. It helps Facebook “personalise your experience” — which is just a fancy word for targeting you with relevant ads. Facebook also says that the off-Facebook activities of users are used to show them things that they might be interested in– such as events that they might want to go.

Off-Facebook activity

“Off-Facebook activity includes information that businesses and organisation share with us about your interactions with them, such as visiting their apps or websites,” Facebook says on its Off-Facebook Activity page.

The off-Facebook activity tool is available in the Facebook Settings.

You can click directly on this link here to access the off-Facebook activity tool or else you can head over to Facebook Settings > Facebook Information > Off-Facebook Activity. Here you can manage your off-Facebook activity, access and download your information, as well as choose to Disconnect it from your account.

Are these apps/websites spying on me?

If you attribute the behaviour of these apps and websites to real human beings, it may qualify as spying. When I dedicated to open up my off-Facebook activity, I had expected to see the website and app count informing Facebook about my activity on their platform to be something around 30 to 45. However, to my surprise, the count was a whopping 454 with a message saying “some of your activity may not appear here”. The list included almost all of the apps and websites I use as well as websites that I visited only once in a lifetime.

You can track your activity on apps and websites that they have shared with Facebook.

This means Facebook knows what I am doing on my phone or computer even when I am not on Facebook. It knows when and what apps I use, what I search for, what products I add to the wishlist, what items I buy, and much more. Now you know why Facebook and Instagram bug you with ads of that jacket you once checked out on a shopping website.

Facebook itself lists out the examples of interactions shared by the companies including– opening the app, visiting a website, searching for an item, adding something to the wishlist, adding something to the cart, and making a purchase. These websites and app use Facebook’s Business tools to share your activity with it.

An example of how businesses share your off-Facebook activity with Facebook.

Should you worry?

While your activity is being shared by these companies with Facebook, the social media giant says that it doesn’t reveal a user’s information with any of the activity suppliers. “We prohibit businesses and organisations from sharing sensitive information with us, including health and financial data. If we determine that a business or an organisation is breaching our terms, we will take action against that business or organisation,” it adds.

What you can do

To learn more about your off-Facebook activity shared by websites and apps, you can download the complete information. You can also delete your off-Facebook activity history by clicking “Clear History” on top of the list. You’ll still see ads, but these will not be based on your online activity.

However, as you continue to use the internet, Facebook will collect new activity on you and serve ads accordingly. To get rid of it for good, you can choose to “turn off future activity” from individual businesses or go to Manage Future Activity and flip the blue switch on the right side of the page.

Should you turn off your off-Facebook activity?

You have the option to turn off your off-Facebook activity, but it will not stop Facebook from receiving your activity from the businesses and organisations that you visit. The activity will merely be disconnected from your account and “may be used for measurement purposes” to improve Facebook’s ads system.

There is an option to turn off the Future Activity.

You can’t stop apps and websites collecting data on you and sharing it with Facebook. The only control you have over your data is that Facebook doesn’t use it to show you “relevant ads”. Also turning off the activity will prevent you from logging in to apps and websites with Facebook “because your activity will be disconnected from your account”.

It means you will no longer be able to use Facebook login for games (like PUBG Mobile), dating apps (like Tinder), e-commerce accounts and more. If that’s one thing you cannot miss out on, you can choose individual businesses to stop your Future Activity. However, for every new app or website you go to, you will have to go to the Settings and turn off its activity from your account.

There are also a couple of other things you must do to stop Facebook from tracking your behaviour and using it for ads. Head over to the ad settings on Facebook (in the Ads section of Settings) and turn off “Ads based on data from partners,” “Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere,” and “Ads that include your social actions.”

Again, all of this will only stop Facebook from serving your “personalised ads” and stop it from tracking you on and off its platform. There is hardly any space on the internet where the company cannot track you but at least you have some control over it using the ads settings and the new Off-Facebook Activity tool.

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