How to Stop Facebook From Spying on Your Internet Activity
Facebook is notorious for tracking your online behavior—both on and off the platform—in order to personalize your experience and send you targeted ads. Fortunately, the social network also offers you tools to review and modify your privacy settings. The Off-Facebook Activity tool tells you what Facebook knows about your online activities when you leave the site. And the Privacy Checkup tool allows you to determine how much or how little information you reveal, and to whom. Here’s how to use both features.
What Is Off-Facebook Activity?
Facebook not only has access to your activity when you use the social network but also when you visit certain third-party websites. To help you manage that information, the Off-Facebook Activity tool lets you review and delete the data collected about you when you’re using other websites. You can also stop the off-Facebook activity from being saved with your account entirely and download the data to analyze it offline.
Off-Facebook activity includes any information that websites, apps, and organizations share with Facebook about your actions with them. This may be something as simple as visiting a specific website or app, or a more involved task such as searching for an item or purchasing a product. Facebook uses this information to serve you targeted ads.
By capturing your activity and choices on supported websites, Facebook can show you coupons and promotions you may find useful. For example, you might buy a pair of shoes from an online clothing store. That store shares your activity and purchase with Facebook, which saves it to your account. Facebook then serves you an ad with a 10% off coupon on your next purchase from that store.
Manage Off-Facebook Activity
If you’re uncomfortable with this type of tracking, especially since it occurs when you’re not on Facebook, you can use the Off-Facebook Activity tool to manage this information. Access this feature by clicking the down arrow in the top right and selecting Settings. Select Your Facebook Information and click the option for Off-Facebook Activity.
Facebook displays the names of sites that have shared your activity and informs you how it gains access to this kind of information. Get more details about your overall off-Facebook activity by clicking the “Learn More” link at the top.
To view your off-Facebook activity, click the icon for any site in the list and then enter your password. You will then see all the sites that have provided information on your activity to Facebook. Click a site to view specific details about it.
A line at the top poses the question “How Did Facebook Get This Activity?” The first drop-down menu will tell you how the site was sent the data to Facebook, such as by using Facebook’s business tools. The second drop-down menu lists examples of interactions with other sites, such as opening an app, visiting a website, searching for an item, or purchasing an item.
If you wish to flag a site as inappropriate content or a misuse of your information, scroll to the bottom of the Activity Details screen and click the Give feedback about this activity link. Select a reason for the feedback and click Send.
If you no longer want this site to share your activity with Facebook, click the Turn off future activity link. A confirmation message explains what will happen if you turn off this activity. If you wish to proceed, click the Turn off button. A message tells you that future activity from this site has been turned off, but keep in mind that your past activity has not been disconnected.
Manage Past and Future Activity
You can manage both past and future activity from the Off-Facebook Activity screen by clicking Manage Future Activity. Read the information on how off-Facebook activity is used, then click Manage Future Activity to take control.
At the next page, you can view the activity that has already been turned off. You can also turn off all future activity by turning off the switch next to Future Off-Facebook Activity.
You can also remove your entire off-Facebook activity history. Return to the main Off-Facebook Activity page. Click the Clear History button at the top and then select Clear History.
Download Off-Facebook Activity
To download your Off-Facebook activity, return to the Off-Facebook Activity page and click Download Your Information on the right.
By default, the Download Your Information page selects all your Facebook data for download. At this point, there is no specific setting just to download your off-Facebook activity information. But certain categories, such Ads and Businesses, do include off-Facebook activity. You may want to select just Ads and Businesses as a first step to see what information it provides, or keep all categories selected to view all your Facebook data. After choosing the categories, click the Create File button.
The page tells you that a copy of your information is being created. You also receive a notification by email. After the file is compiled and ready for download, you will receive another notification email. At the Download Your Information page, click the Available Copies tab, then click the Download button to save the information as a zip file on your computer.
Unzip the file and open it to review the information. From the extracted files, open the index.html file. From there you can access and view whatever categories of information you downloaded.
To run the latest version of Facebook’s Privacy Checkup tool, click the down arrow icon in the upper right, go to Settings & Privacy, and select Privacy Checkup. At the Privacy Checkup window, click the first topic for Who can see what you share.
Click Continue. At the Profile Information window, review the settings for your phone number, email addresses, and birthday. Click the button next to each one, and choose whether to change it to Public, Friends, Only Me, or a specific Facebook list. You probably want this information to remain private or only visible to friends or a specific group. When done, click Next.
At the Posts window, set the option for who should see future posts. You’ll likely want to set this to Friends. The Limit Past Posts option changes past posts that were seen by the public or friends of friends to only friends. To do this, click the Limit button and click OK. Then click Next.
At the Block screen, you can block specific people from seeing things you post, starting conversations with you, or trying to add you as a friend. To do this, click Add to Blocked list and type the name of the person or account you wish to block. From the list of suggestions, click the Block button for the correct person, then click Next.
Click Review Another Topic. Select How to keep your account secure, then click Continue. At the window for Is Your Password Private, click Change Password if you’re concerned that it was compromised or you want to change it to something more secure. Click Next.
At the window for Add an Extra Layer of Security to Your Account, click the Get Started button to add two-factor authentication to protect your Facebook account. Follow the steps to set this up. You can choose SMS to receive a text message, select an authenticator app such as Google Authenticator, or use a physical security key.
At the window for Control Your Alerts, turn on the switch for any alerts you wish to receive if you or someone else signs into your Facebook account from a new or different location, then click Next.
Click Review Another Topic and select How people can find you on Facebook, then click Continue. At the window for Friend Requests, click the button if you wish to change who can send you friend requests. Click Next.
At the Phone Number and Email window, decide who can look you up on Facebook by your phone number and email address, then click Next. At the Search Engines window, make sure to turn off the switch for Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile? Click Next.
Select Review Another Topic and choose Your data settings on Facebook, then click Continue. At the window for Apps and Websites, remove apps you no longer need or use to prevent the developer from further accessing certain Facebook data about you, such as a list of your friends. For any such apps, click the Remove button. At the confirmation window, click the Remove button, then click Next.
At the window for Face Recognition, turn off the switch for Do you want Facebook to be able to recognize you in photos and videos? Click Next.
Click Your ad preferences on Facebook and click Continue. Read the first screen for this topic and click Next. Turn off the switch for any pieces of information that you don’t want Facebook to use to serve you targeted ads, then click Next.
At the window for Social Interactions, choose who can see your social interactions alongside ads. Click Next, then click Review Another Topic, and you’re done.
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