Here’s How Facebook Is Stalking You—And How to Make It Stop

Facebook has quietly rolled out a new feature that lets users know what data it's mining. Here's how to use it.

By now, it’s no secret that Facebook tracks your activity and mines your data to serve you targeted ads. And as executives at Facebook know, people aren’t happy about that. It could be one of the reasons the platform lost 15 million users between 2017 and 2019.

Perhaps in a move to gain back trust, Facebook recently released its Off-Facebook Activity tool. The tool is designed to give you greater control over how your personal data is shared, stored, and tracked—and not only by Facebook but also with a slew of Facebook-affiliated business partners, explains Monica Eaton-Cardone, the owner, co-founder, and COO of Chargebacks911, a fintech cybersecurity company. Here’s a breakdown of what the tool does, how to use it, and what could happen if you don’t.

What the Off-Facebook Activity tool does

“Basically, it allows you to be more protective of your personal privacy. But not completely: Facebook will still track, sort, and sell your data on a macro-level, but it will no longer be associated with your personal account,” says Eaton-Cardone.

Dave Hatter, a cybersecurity consultant at Intrust IT explains, “Unless you are already privacy-minded and have taken steps to limit your digital footprint, you might be surprised, if not shocked, at the number of sites that are sharing information about you with Facebook.” He says that a “staggering quantity of businesses, devices, apps, websites, and data services are selling your data to Facebook,” and that information is used by Facebook to serve up very targeted advertising to you. This tool should help give you back control.

If this doesn’t make you feel better, it might be time to sign off for good. Here’s why one woman decided to quit Facebook and Instagram—and is never going back.

How to use it

Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, breaks down the steps. To start, go into Settings, click “Your Facebook Information,” and then click “Off-Facebook Activity.” From there, you have a few choices. You can:

  • View your connections. You can view them all or filter by category.

  • Clear your current history. This will remove all interactions, so you’ll be starting from scratch. Keep in mind that this will even remove connections that you may actually want.

  • Manage future connections. With this, you can block certain apps and websites from attempting to use your Facebook connection in the future.

Which should you choose? It’s really up to you. “By using the menu options, you’ll be able to delete your data, clear your history, and turn off tracking,” Eaton-Cardone explains. “You can opt out of everything, or you could disassociate yourself from specific companies or brands. The ‘Ad Preference’ setting is another option for removing undesirable content from your feed, but only the ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ tool will protect your personal data, too.”

While you’re at it, take some time to learn about the Facebook scams you need to take seriously.

Should you use it?

This is really a personal choice. Not everyone will want to trade in the convenience and personalization that tracking provides. “Some people absolutely love Facebook just the way it is and really enjoy scrolling through the ads and click-bait articles that are tailored for their interests,” says Eaton-Cardone. “They adore seeing these stories and sharing them with their friends. There are also people who—even though I don’t recommend it—use their Facebook accounts to access apps, sites, and other media. If you delete your Facebook data and disable tracking, you’ll no longer see the same ads and articles in your news feed, and you’ll need to create new log-ins for all Facebook-accessed apps and sites.”

On the other hand, says Hatter, “If you choose not to take these steps, Facebook will continue to amass your information.” While Facebook currently claims that it doesn’t sell you information, he asks, will that always be true?

“Whether it ultimately matters or not, I’d always recommend getting to know your software personalization settings,” says Rhea Henry, a digital marketer and content strategist with EnergyRates.ca. “Become familiar with what’s tracking you and do what you can to maintain some semblance of privacy.”

Did you know that you can get banned from Facebook? Here’s what to avoid.

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Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.