New tool enables users to disconnect their off-Facebook activity from their account

Facebook has announced the (partial) roll-out of a long-awaited “Clear History” privacy tool for users, only it ended up being dubbed “Off-Facebook Activity”.

Off-Facebook Activity is accessbile from Facebook's Settings

First mentioned by Mark Zuckerberg over a year ago, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the tool is now available to users in Ireland, South Korea and Spain, and will be rolled out to the remaining user base over the coming months.

About the tool

Facebook collects information about its users by asking them to fill their account with pertinent information, by monitoring their activity on the Facebook website and associated apps, and by getting information about their activity on other websites.

“With Off-Facebook Activity, you can see and control the data that other apps and websites share with Facebook,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, explained.

Users will be able to:

  • See a summary of the information other apps and websites have sent Facebook through tools like Facebook Pixel, Facebook Login and the “Like” button
  • Disconnect this information from their account
  • Choose to disconnect future off-Facebook activity from their account.

If they choose to do the latter, they will continue to see the same number of ads through Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, but they will be less personalized.

Facebook says that the company will not delete this browsing information or stop collecting it and using it, but that it won’t be connected to the user’s account, i.e., associated to the user personally.

The new tool will be accessible from Facebook’s Settings. Before accessing the detailed activity list within Off-Facebook Activity, users will be required to enter a password.

In a separate blog post, Facebook’s engineers explained how they met the challenges encountered while developing the tool and how the data is disconnected from users’ account.

They also noted that they will retain some information for security and safety investigations.

“We wanted to enable people to disconnect their information, but we also needed to ensure malicious actors don’t use Off-Facebook Activity to evade enforcement. To solve this, we maintained the ability to flag activity when we see evidence of misconduct, like efforts to access our systems in unauthorized ways or to engage in fraud,” they explained.

“In these cases, we can retain a limited set of flagged activity for a longer time. This limited data is stored in separate, access-controlled tables to help ensure that only the relevant security or integrity employees have access to that information. Once the investigation concludes, the data is deleted unless we determine abusive activity has occurred and further action is necessary to protect our products and users.”