Facebook Just Launched a Tool to Stop Tracking, But There’s a Catch…

Is it a real privacy effort or a PR stunt?

Facebook social media app on iPhone X
Facebook doesn't just collect information on its own platform, other businesses feed it data about you.
Rahul Chakraborty/Unsplash
By Alex Lauer / January 30, 2020 1:52 pm

On Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg announced Off-Facebook Activity, a new privacy tool for the social media platform. In a blog post, the founder and CEO acknowledged that businesses send Facebook information about its users, but said that this tool will allow them to “see a summary of that information and clear it from your account if you want to. “

The announcement coincided with Data Privacy Day and seemed to be a promising step at a company plagued by data-sharing concerns (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?). But as Gizmodo writes, in terms of real privacy, Off-Facebook Activity is like a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

Here’s how Off-Facebook Activity works. If you’re logged into your account you can access it via this link, or find it in Settings > Your Facebook Information > Off-Facebook Activity. Once there, users can view which companies are tracking their activity and sharing it with Facebook, then do things like download that information or, more crucially, use a sub-tool called “Clear History.” 

But as Gizmodo points out, “Clear History” doesn’t mean what you think it means.

“Zuck’s use of the phrases ‘control your off-Facebook activity’ and ‘clear this information from your account’ is misleading — you’re not really controlling or clearing much of anything,” writes reporter Shoshana Wodinsky. “By using this tool, you’re just telling Facebook to put the data it has on you into two separate buckets that are otherwise mixed together.”

In other words, Facebook will still collect information about you from businesses outside its domain, but instead of directly tying that data to your account and, say, serving you ads, it will keep it separate. But it will still keep it, not clear it.

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