It’s been way overdue. But Facebook has finally released a long-promised tool that could give you more control over how the social network traces your path across the web.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the global availability of this “Off-Facebook Activity” tool in a blog post Tuesday on Data Privacy Day. It’s part of an effort to fix and rewrite Facebook’s poor scandal-riddled narrative on privacy. 

Facebook exploits information that businesses routinely share with Facebook about your activities when you’re beyond the virtual corridors of the social network to serve up ads customized to your interests. They use such business-oriented tools as Facebook Pixel, the Facebook SDK and the Facebook Login.

But you need not sign into a site or app through Facebook Login for a business to share an interaction with Facebook. Other triggers include opening an app, adding an item to a shopping cart or making a donation.

The Off-Facebook Activity tool that is now available across the Facebook network lets you view a summary of such apps and websites and ask Facebook to clear the past information about such activities.

With a little bit of extra work, you can also ask Facebook to disassociate your future activity from your account.

How to access the tool

On the web, click Settings, found by clicking the drop-down arrow on the upper right corner of the screen.

In the Facebook app on the iPhone, start by tapping the icon with three horizontal lines on the bottom right. On Android devices, tap the three lines at the top right. Then go to Settings & Privacy and select Settings and scroll down.  

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Next, select the Your Facebook Information option, which in turn surfaces the Off-Facebook Activity menu option.

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You have a few choices from here:

If you’re not keen on any of the businesses that tracked you in the past, tap Clear History to do just that. Facebook notes that it will continue to receive your activity from the businesses and organizations you visit in the future and that you will still see the same number of ads.

If you’re OK with some sites and apps tracking you from here on but not others, select the “Manage Your Off-Facebook Activity” option. You will see a summary and listing of the businesses that have shared your activity. 

(On Thursday, 86 apps and websites were listed in my own Facebook summary. A colleague had 969.)

You can cherry-pick through each listing and select “Turn off future activity from x.” You can also click an option to voluntarily give feedback about the app or site when something’s not quite right. (Your choices are: misusing my information, inappropriate content, don’t recognize activity or something else.)

When you make various selections, Facebook says it may take up to 48 hours until the app or site is fully disconnected from your account, and even then Facebook may continue to receive activity from the outfit in question. Facebook says the info is used for measurement purposes and to make improvements to its ad system. 

What’s more, taking these steps, Facebook says, doesn’t mean you won’t still see ads from these companies. 

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To prevent all the companies that may otherwise supply activity tracking to Facebook from here on in one fell swoop, select More Options, then Manage Future Activity and then confusingly Manage Future Activity again. 

You will see a Future Activity switch that is likely already enabled; click or tap the switch to turn it off. Facebook cautions making this choice “will also prevent you from logging into apps and websites with Facebook because your activity will be disconnected from your account.”

In his blog post, Zuckerberg wrote that “You should be able to easily understand and manage your information, which is why strengthening your privacy controls is so important. We’ll have more to share as we continue to make progress on this important work in the decade ahead.”

There’ll be plenty of critics to make sure that Facebook lives up to that pledge.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter



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