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Facebook unveils tool that allows users to curb targeted advertising

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Facebook has launched a long-awaited privacy tool that will allow users to prevent websites from passing on their data to the social network for the purposes of targeted advertising, in a move that could dent its revenues.

The world’s largest social media network, which made the majority of its $17bn second-quarter revenue from advertising, said on Tuesday that it would offer the new “Off-Facebook Activity” feature in Ireland, South Korea and Spain at first, before rolling it out across the rest of the world in the “coming months”. 

The tool will allow Facebook and Instagram users to see — and limit — the personal information that potentially hundreds of thousands of third-party websites and apps have shared with Facebook about them for purposes of targeted advertising. This data include information such as whether they purchased a specific product on an external website or added an item to a cart.

But, in a move that will anger privacy activists, Facebook will not delete data from its servers completely, even if users opt out. Instead, the company will continue to collect information to provide third parties with analytics; however this will not be linked to a specific, identifiable account. 

The new tool will also have no impact on Facebook’s ability to collect data on what its users do on Facebook and Instagram itself. 

“After a few headline-grabbing data privacy issues, Facebook has had to make aggressive moves to win back consumer trust,” said Jim Cridlin, global head of innovation at media agency Mindshare. 

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But even with the implementation of the tool, the company would still “maintain rich targeting capabilities from the data they gather from within their ecosystem”, he said. 

Currently, Facebook offers a free tracking facility, known as the “Facebook Pixel”, to third-party partner websites and apps as part of a suite of business tools. By gathering data from sites that have the Pixel installed on them, Facebook can track its users around the internet — without their knowledge — learning their behaviours and building user profiles on which to base future targeted advertising.

With the new tool, users have the option to de-link this data from their personal Facebook account so that it can no longer be used for targeted ads on the social media platform. Users can also prevent the company from using their data for similar purposes in the future, and also switch off the future targeting abilities of individual sites or apps, or the entire list of third parties, Facebook said.

Stephanie Max, product manager at Facebook, said that its advertisers welcomed the move as giving “more transparency and control” to users. But she warned that the latest change could hurt Facebook’s revenue, depending on how widely the tool is used. 

“We expect that this could have an impact on our advertising, because these signals are really powerful and important in personalising people’s experience,” she said on a call with reporters. 

The measure was first promised by Facebook in May last year under the name “Clear History”, as part of its efforts to regain user trust following the Cambridge Analytica data leak, in which the personal data of 87m Facebook users was obtained by a political consultancy via a third party. Last month, the company agreed to pay a record $5bn to settle with the US Federal Trade Commission over the incident, as well as several other smaller data scandals.

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Via Financial Times

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