Off-Facebook Activity – more privacy for users?

Jonas Poenicke

Off-Facebook Activity – more privacy for users?

Announced in May 2018, the new feature to control off-Facebook activity has been available to the whole world on Facebook since January 2020. Is the new feature a revelation for the privacy of Facebook users or just a small step towards data sovereignty?

What is off-Facebook activity?

Privacy on Facebook has long been a difficult issue. The new Off-Facebook Activity refers to information that companies collect and send to Facebook about visitors to their services. This is done through Facebook Business Tools. Facebook then uses this data, for example which products a user is interested in, to generate personalized advertisements. The creation of personalized ads is often so precise that users suspect that Facebook and Co. are listening in on their devices through the microphone.

What you can do with the new feature

One advantage of the new off-Facebook activity feature is that you can see what information has been sent to Facebook by which companies (in the last 180 days) about yourself (identified by the device you use, for example). In addition, you can unlink this data, which was collected in the past, with your own account. It is also possible to prevent future linking. That sounds like a big step towards more data sovereignty. But is it really so?

Unlinking is not equal to deleting

Removing the link between the off-Facebook Activity and your own data does not mean that the data in question will also be deleted or even not collected in the future. Information about user behavior will continue to be collected from websites and sent to Facebook. The new settings merely mean that Facebook will no longer assign data and activities to individual users, and thus result in less personalized advertising. This does not change the amount of ads, by the way.

It is difficult to judge whether the data can really no longer be assigned to individual users when using these new options. The typical “opt-out” character of these new options also makes Facebook’s interest in more control over personal data doubtful.

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Jonas Poenicke

My name is Jonas Poenicke and I have been traveling throughout Germany and beyond for AWARE7 as a speaker for IT security since 2018. I also work with the pentesting team and take on sales tasks as well as organizing live hacking talks.