Facebook To Reveal User Tracking Secrets

John Lister's picture

Facebook is to show users what data it collects about their activity on other sites. It won't stop tracking, but will make the data anonymous if users ask.

The changes will come in a new settings option called "Off-Facebook Activity." This will list all websites and apps that share data about user activity with Facebook.

This most commonly happens through two methods. One is that the user has opted to log in to the third-party site through Facebook. In other words, as long as they haven't logged out of their Facebook account, they don't need to create or input user names and passwords for the other websites.

The other method is called Facebook Pixel. That's a tracking cookie which third-party sites can use to match up activity on their sites with a user's Facebook data. The idea is that sites can figure out how effective their Facebook advertising is, not just by seeing whether it gets Facebook users on to their site, but what they do there - for example, whether the ads attract users who go on to buy products. (Source: hootsuite.com)

Users Can Block By Site

Both methods allow Facebook to gather data on users beyond what they actually do on Facebook itself. That in turn allows more targeted advertising on Facebook.

As well as seeing a list of apps and sites that share data with Facebook, users will be able to block future tracking by either selecting individual apps and sites or blocking everything. The latter option will also stop apps and sites sharing the personalized data in future.

'Clear History' Label Confusing

The options will have a somewhat misleading name of "clear history". In fact, the data from previous tracking won't be deleted by Facebook. Instead, it will be anonymized and aggregated, meaning it won't be linked to the individual user.

Also, the sites and apps will be able to continue sharing data on future activity by the user, but again it will have to be anonymized.

The feature is currently being tested on users in Ireland, South Korea and Spain before rolling out worldwide. However, it won't be heavily promoted and it seems likely users will need to find out about the feature and actively go into the settings menu to use it, rather than Facebook actively prompting users to consider the issue. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

What's Your Opinion?

Did you know third-party sites shared data with Facebook in this way? If you use Facebook, will you change these settings when available? Have you noticed Facebook ads being affected by what other sites you've visited?

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