What is Off-Facebook activity, and what does it reveal about your online activity?

2 min read
Jamie

Jamie is always hungry. He also writes about digital privacy in exchange for sandwiches.

Facebook app icon with surveillance notification alert.

Facebook harvests a lot of your data, even when you’re not actually using it. Now, finally, Facebook is letting you see and delete that information.

Named Off-Facebook Activity, this ability to toggle what Facebook can see you do outside of its website was rolled out a few months ago, in January 2020. But it was only recently brought to light by a series of semi-viral Twitter posts like the one below.

What is Off-Facebook Activity?

According to Facebook, Off-Facebook activity is “a summary of activity that businesses and organizations share with us about your interactions, such as visiting their apps or websites.”

When you visit a website or open an app, like an online shopping app, your activity on their platform is shared with Facebook, who will then send you targeted ads based on that activity.

Facebook’s official page on this tool shows this flowchart:

Facebook flowchart of data collection and control through Off-Facebook Activity tool.

Facebook’s data collection is not news, and its history is marred by a slew of scandals surrounding its data collection—most notably involving Cambridge Analytica in 2016.

In response to these scandals, Facebook now lets you see a summary of the information it collects about your activity outside of its app, and lets you ‘control’ it by disconnecting that activity from your account.

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You have the option to disconnect your off-Facebook activity or select specific websites to clear any data Facebook already has acquired about you.

However, if you choose to disconnect your off-Facebook activity, the data doesn’t just go away, and there is no guarantee Facebook will delete the information from its servers.

Two things will happen, though: 

  1. You will still see ads, but they will not be personalized.
  2. Your information will still be collected, but it will not be linked to you.

When you turn the setting off, you may also lose the ability to login to websites through Facebook—which we highly discourage you from doing anyway.

How to disable Off-Facebook Activity

On Desktop:

If you’re using Facebook’s new design, access the tool by clicking on the navigation menu at the top-right of the desktop version of Facebook. Then click on Settings & Privacy > Privacy Shortcuts > View or clear your off-Facebook activity.

On Mobile:

Open the Facebook app and tap on the menu icon on the bottom right. Tap on Settings & Privacy > Settings and select Off-Facebook Activity under the Your Facebook Information section.

Jamie writes about current issues concerning digital privacy and security and is known to interview leading figures in tech. He also keeps an eye on changes in government censorship and surveillance.