Face­book rolls out tool to block track­ing data

The Morning Call - - BUSINESS CYCLE -

via its “like” but­tons and other means. You can choose to turn off the track­ing; oth­er­wise, track­ing will con­tinue the same way it has been.

For­merly known as “clear his­tory,” the tool will now go by the slightly clunkier moniker “of­fFace­book ac­tiv­ity.”

The fea­ture launched in South Korea, Ire­land and Spain on Tues­day, con­sis­tent with Face­book’s ten­dency to roll out fea­tures in smaller mar­kets first. The com­pany did not give a time­line for when it might ex­pand it to the U.S. and other coun­tries, only that it will be in “com­ing months.”

What you do off Face­book is among the many pieces of in­for­ma­tion that Face­book uses to tar­get ads to peo­ple. Block­ing the track­ing could mean fewer ads that seem fa­mil­iar — for ex­am­ple, for a pair of shoes you de­cided not to buy, or a non­profit you do­nated money to. But it won’t change the ac­tual num­ber of ads you’ll see on Face­book. Nor will it change how your ac­tions on Face­book are used to show you ads.

Even if you turn off track­ing, Face­book will still gather data on your off-Face­book ac­tiv­i­ties. It will sim­ply dis­con­nect those ac­tiv­i­ties from your Face­book pro­file. Face­book says busi­nesses won’t know you clicked on their ad — but they’ll know that some­one did. So Face­book can still tell ad­ver­tis­ers how well their ads are per­form­ing.

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 pre­empt reg­u­la­tion and fur­ther pun­ish­ment. But it’s a del­i­cate dance, as Face­book still de­pends on highly tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing for nearly all of its rev­enue.

CEO Mark Zucker­berg an­nounced the “clear his­tory” fea­ture more than a year ago. The com­pany said build­ing it has been a com­pli­cated tech­ni­cal process, which is also the rea­son for the slow, grad­ual roll­out. Face­book said it sought in­put from users, pri­vacy ex­perts and pol­i­cy­mak­ers along the way, which led to some changes. For in­stance, users will be able to dis­con­nect their ac­tiv­ity from a spe­cific web­sites or apps, or re­con­nect to a spe­cific site while keep­ing other fu­ture track­ing turned off.

You’ll be able to ac­cess the fea­ture by go­ing to your Face­book set­tings and scrolling down to “your Face­book in­for­ma­tion.” The “off-Face­book ac­tiv­ity” sec­tion will be there when it launches.

The tool will let you delete your past brows­ing his­tory from Face­book and pre­vent it from keep­ing track of your fu­ture clicks, taps and web­site vis­its go­ing for­ward. Do­ing so means that Face­book won’t use in­for­ma­tion gleaned from apps and web­sites to tar­get ads to you on Face­book, In­sta­gram and Mes­sen­ger. It also won’t use such in­for­ma­tion to show you posts that Face­book thinks you might like based on your off-site ac­tiv­ity, such as news ar­ti­cles shared by your friends.

Stephanie Max, prod­uct man­ager at Face­book, said the com­pany be­lieves the tool could af­fect rev­enue, though she didn’t say how much. But she said giv­ing peo­ple “trans­parency and con­trol” is im­por­tant.

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