How To Find Out What Data Facebook Collects While You Aren't Using The Site

by Caroline Burke
Carl Court/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Over a year after it first teased the idea, Facebook will soon offer a tool that will allow you to gain more insight into what information is being shared between the social networking giant and other companies. The tool, called "off-Facebook activity," will list the information that the platform has collected on you from other sites. So if you're wondering how to see what Facebook knows about you, it might be a few months until you find out.

According to BuzzFeed News, the new tool will be available internationally over the coming months, starting with Ireland, South Korea, and Spain. To use the tool once available, you can navigate to your account settings, and should be able to find a tab for Off-Facebook activity there.

This section will show what information about you has been sent by other businesses to Facebook. And if you're wondering how Facebook gets this information, consider how many times you've "logged in" to a site by just inputting your Facebook log-in instead of creating a new account. According to the Guardian, that's one of the ways that Facebook gains information on you via other companies; other sources include Facebook Pixel, the news site reports.

And for anyone who wonders what "off-Facebook activity" even means, Facebook explained that a little bit in its press release about the tool:

Imagine a clothing website wants to show ads to people who are interested in a new style of shoes. They can send information to Facebook saying someone on a particular device looked at those shoes. If that device information matches someone’s Facebook account, we can show ads about those shoes to that person.

The press release also offered an option for people to access more resources on what off-Facebook activity looks like.

So once you can access your off-Facebook activity, you'll be able to decide whether or not you want to "clear" your browsing history. If you do decide to do that, then Facebook will anonymize all of your information, rather than directly pairing it to your profile. However, there's no option whatsoever for your personal information to be deleted forever.

As BuzzFeed News reports, if you decide to disable off-Facebook activity collection, or clear your browsing history of off-Facebook activity, then the social networking site won't use your browsing history to target you with ads in the future.

To the Guardian, Stephanie Max, a product manager at Facebook, said that the decision to label the anonymization of data as "cleared history" came from the hope that “people were able to mentally connect that with how their browser controls work, where they can clear their history." She added, "We clearly state that … the information isn’t connected to your account.”

According to The Washington Post, this new tool won't stop Facebook from letting businesses know when a user has bought a product after being targeted with an ad on the platform. In some cases, it also won't stop businesses from accessing your contact information on Facebook by uploading your email address or phone number, The Post reports. Erin Egan, the chief privacy officer of Facebook, said to the publication, “We expect this could have some impact on our business, but we believe giving people more control over their data is more important.”

Facebook officials confirmed (via BuzzFeed News) that there will be no notification of the new tool once it's available to you, not in the same way that the platform will occasionally offer a prompt or message explaining a change after you've logged in. So you might want to check in on your settings page from time to time to see when the off-Facebook activity option is available to you, if you're interested in keeping track of that information.