Off-Facebook Activity tool lets users see and block data gathering

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FILE – This March 29, 2018 file photo, shows the logo for social media giant Facebook at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. Britain’s competition watchdog signalled on Wednesday Dec. 18, 2019, its willingness to push for stricter rules to counter Google and Facebook ‘s dominance of online advertising. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

(KXAN) — Everyone knows Facebook tracks our information. We have all had that moment while scrolling through the social network when we see an ad for something we were just talking about moments ago.

What some don’t know is that Facebook tracks user data even when you are not using the site. With the introduction of the new Off-Facebook Activity tool, users are given some control and a glimpse into just how many ways the network is tracking us.

The Off-Facebook Activity tool was announced in August 2018, but was finally launched Tuesday. The feature, found in the settings section on users’ profiles, shows which companies are supplying Facebook with data about your day-to-day activity. For example, they can share information such as if you simply visited a certain site or bought a product from it.

Facebook does this to better personalize the ads seen while scrolling through the news feed. Anytime you see an ad that convinces you your phone must be listening to you, it is actually due to Facebook’s extensive off-site data collection.

Jasmine Enberg, social media analyst at research firm eMarketer, said the tool is part of Facebook’s efforts to be clearer to users on how it tracks them and likely “an effort to stay one step ahead of regulators, in the U.S. and abroad.”

Facebook faces increasing governmental scrutiny over its privacy practices, including a record $5 billion fine from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for mishandling user data. Boosting its privacy protections could help the company pre-empt regulation and further punishment. But it’s a delicate dance, as Facebook still depends on highly targeted advertising for nearly all of its revenue.

Facebook says the new tool will allow users to not only see where the information Facebook receives is coming from, but they will also be able to control it. Users will disconnect any information from their account.

If the information is disconnected users will still see ads, but Facebook says those ads will be less personalized.

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