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© Erin Alexis Randolph |
Security & privacy

See exactly what Facebook knows about you – and delete it – with this tool

It’s been a good deal of time since Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed the “future is private.” But based on the company’s behavior in the past several months, its difficult to say how much it’s tried to uphold that ideal.

Facebook did release several high-profile privacy tools for users to try out. They supposedly give you more flexibility with how your data is used, but Facebook continues getting caught mishandling the information it collects. Tap or click here to see how Facebook continues to exploit user data.

And now, one of the social media giant’s most highly anticipated privacy updates has finally arrived on American shores. The name might not look familiar, but if you remember Facebook’s plan to let you “clear your history,” the tool is now available — but does it really improve your privacy? It’s complicated.

Forget ‘Clear history.’ Welcome to ‘Off-Facebook Activity’

Facebook finally released its highly anticipated “clear history” privacy tool to U.S. audiences — but with an unusual twist. Instead of keeping the name it announced more than a year ago, the company is now going with the far less optimistic “Off-Facebook Activity.”

I guess they didn’t really want us to think we were deleting anything important, huh? Tap or click to see Facebook’s original plans for “clear history.”

That said, “Off-Facebook Activity” is still a major milestone for the platform. Previously, users were unable to edit or remove the myriad of ad-related data points collected by Facebook and its affiliates.

But now, you’ll have the option to stop Facebook from tracking your off-site activity, as well as clear your Facebook-connected browsing history from the platform.

Facebook is such an effective advertiser because it networks with numerous data collection systems from all over the web. This data is then fed back to the social media giant to be compiled in your personalized ad profile.

Any Facebook apps you install makes use of this data as well, and may be collecting more of your information, too. But with the new update, you can see this data and delete it for good. Well, I mean, until Facebook starts collecting more information again.

Does this update really do anything for my privacy?

It does appear to allow changes to off-site tracking, but we’re skeptical whether the new controls will have much impact. The original “Clear History” label is highly misleading, considering what it actually does.

Clicking “Clear History” disconnects your off-Facebook activity from your account, which means sites that use Facebook analytics to serve ads and construct your marketing profile will stop tracking you. Tap or click to find out how you can stop Facebook from tracking you.

While this is definitely a step up, there are still a few factors that don’t change, even after you use the feature. For example, clicking “Clear History” doesn’t actually remove any data from Facebook’s servers.

In fact, they still have all your profile data, which is far more important in building your ad profile. Plus, anyone who doesn’t use the “Clear History” feature will continue to be tracked as normal. It’s no wonder they changed the name in the end.

As for why Facebook won’t outright delete your data: The company claims it opted for disconnection over deletion because the latter process would require a massive overhaul of its databases, which could prove too time consuming to deliver effectively.

A likely story, but it goes to show just how much this one company has on us and the lengths it’s willing to go to keep all that data.

How can I clear my Facebook history?

Even if it doesn’t do much, some modicum of privacy is better than nothing. By all means, let us savor the crumbs Facebook so graciously provides us!

Here’s how to access Off-Facebook Activity:

  1. Click on the dropdown menu arrow at the top right of Facebook and click Settings.
  2. Click Your Facebook Information in the left column.
  3. Click Off-Facebook Activity to review. From here, click Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity.

    You’ll be asked to re-enter your password, then once you’re verified, it will show you the apps and sites that have shared ads with your Facebook account.
  4. When you’re ready to clear this information, click Clear history.

Now, Facebook starts over with a fresh batch of data the next time you go perusing websites or apps that share information with the platform.

Or, you know, you could just break things off once and for all. Tap or click to see why Kim thinks it’s time to finally break up with Facebook.

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