Social media giant Facebook has launched a new online tool in Ireland to allow people to see what data has been collected on them via their accounts, including when navigating the internet outside Facebook.
Alongside South Korea and Spain, Ireland, where Facebook has its European headquarters, is one of only three countries where the new tool, known as Off-Facebook Activity, is operational.
The tool not only allows users to view their collected data, but also to request its deletion if they so wish.
It is the first time that Facebook users have been able to view the kind of data that the site has been tracking on them.
The website tracks its users both via their interactions with it and via the companies and services for which they have pushed the ‘Like’ button in order to provide a revenue stream via advertising.
In such a way, if a person accesses a third party site which they have ‘liked’ on Facebook, a targeted advert may present itself regarding that content when they return to Facebook or its photo-sharing subsidiary Instagram.
The Off-Facebook tool functions by allowing a user to see a summary of the information other apps and websites have sent to Facebook.
It also allows both the deletion of that data, or ‘disconnection’ as the website describes it in a blogpost online, and the ‘turning-off’ of future data tracking activity from a user’s account.
As regards why the feature has been introduced, Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, said in the same blogpost that the aim is to “shed more light on these practices that are common yet not always well understood”.
She said that the tracking of data across websites is “how much of the internet works” but that it can be “really difficult for people to keep track of who has information about them and what it’s used for”.
“This is another way to give people more transparency and control on Facebook,” Ms Egan said.
The social media site is currently monitored across Europe in effect by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), given its European headquarters is based in Dublin.
At present the DPC has eight separate investigations outstanding into Facebook, for reasons such as whether or not the site, founded by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2005, is discharging its obligations under GDPR with regard to how it processes personal data in the context of issues like data breaches, behavioural analysis, and targeted advertising.
Four of those investigations were referred to the DPC by Facebook itself.
Privacy solicitor Simon McGarr said of Off-Facebook that “the most interesting thing is that it is an admission that they were tracking people who aren’t members of Facebook”.
“It is hard to give them credit when it would be better if they just didn’t track people off Facebook in the first place,” Mr McGarr said.