Facebook Takes Steps Towards User Privacy
by Samra Anees
This week, Facebook announced its intent to start rolling out a new privacy feature called Off-Facebook Activity that allows users to view and turn off their off-Facebook activity, which would no longer allow Facebook to link users’ data to target ads on their accounts (Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger).
This blog explores this new privacy feature and how it could potentially affect Facebook.
Facebook Finally Takes Promised Steps Towards Privacy
It’s no secret that Facebook has been under fire for its lack of privacy before. In March, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be heading towards a more privacy-centric future, but provided no further information on how. In fact, Facebook has been known to track users’ locations and web browsing history and share a lot of that data with third parties and without a lot of visibility around that practice; it has also lobbied against privacy laws.
Now with the introduction of this new feature, Facebook is allowing users to see a summary of what apps and websites send information to Facebook and the ability to opt-out of that and keep their browsing history out of Facebook’s hands. We’re probably all used to logging into Facebook and Instagram (owned by Facebook) and seeing countless ads for something we searched for on the web appear in our feeds. But if the new feature is activated, Facebook will no longer know which websites you’ve visited, what you looked at there, and in turn, no longer show ads for those things on your feed. Facebook knows that incorporating this feature could affect its business if users use the opt-out option, but claims that giving its users this privacy is worth it.
This feature is rolling out in Ireland, Spain, and South Korea first, with plans to expand to other countries later.
The Effect on Facebook Depends On User Adoption
People have a track record of saying they care about privacy but taking no action to protect it. With features like this one, it will be interesting to see how many people take advantage of the Off-Facebook Activity tool since it has to be turned on to be activated. If people don’t choose to do enable the opt-out feature, Facebook’s business won’t be heavily impacted.
Currently, Facebook is only rolling out the feature to Ireland, Spain, and South Korea, potentially ignoring its larger markets due to advertising. We will be watching to see how Facebook is affected when this is rolled out in Facebook’s larger markets like North America and the rest of Europe and Asia.
Along with being critical of Facebook, people should be aware that many websites do not disclose that they share user data with Facebook or other sites. But with the roll-out of this new Off-Facebook Activity feature, it seems that Facebook is finally taking the steps it claimed that it wanted to towards a more “privacy-centric” future; although it is a very limited rollout and is probably a move by Facebook to stay compliant with the privacy crackdowns in the U.S. and abroad. It will be interesting to see how many users actually take advantage of some of the privacy that is being given back to them; the impact that releasing this feature has on Facebook’s business will be telling of this.