Facebook is giving users more details on the data it collects about them and how it’s used.
The company is updating its “Access Your Information” feature, first rolled out in 2018, to make it easier for users to see their personal information and activities across the site, as well as how it might be used to target ads to them. Here’s what it does — and what it doesn’t.
The feature is available for iOS and Android devices now, and Facebook says it will be rolled out for other platforms soon. If you want to see it for yourself, go to Settings & Privacy > Privacy Shortcuts > Your Facebook Information > Access Your Information.
Mobile app users will see eight categories of data when they tap “Access Your Information”: their activity across Facebook, friends and followers, preferences, personal information, logged information, ads information, apps and websites off of Facebook, and security and login information. Most of this data was already available to users, but the update makes it more granular and better spells out what it all means. Considering that many Facebook users still don’t realize or understand how some of this stuff works, more transparency is a good thing.
“We want to make sure that your information on Facebook is useful, easy to understand and easy to find,” the company said in a blog post announcing the update. “All of these changes were made in response to our own research that showed us how people interacted with Access Your Information already — for example, the new categories were developed based on what people were already clicking on.”
Facebook will also tell you how your data might be used to target ads to you (also known as, “Personalize your experience”). You could already see this information by clicking, “Why am I seeing this ad?” on the ads themselves, but this puts it in a second location, and one where the association between your data and how Facebook uses it is more clear. The company has also added a search function within Access Your Information to make it easier to find what you might be looking for.
Facebook, along with many other tech platforms, has in recent years tried to make its data collection practices more transparent and give users more control over them — to a point, at least. The company now lets users see how Facebook is tracking them when they visit other websites, as well as delete that data and stop Facebook from targeting them with ads based on it. And it’s made it easier for users to see the length and breadth of their Facebook activity across the platform and manage it. As a purely hypothetical example, you can easily find and delete or hide embarrassing roller derby afterparty photos from 2009 that you may not want to be associated with in 2021.
But you still can’t find out exactly how or why you were targeted for a specific ad (Facebook’s “Why am I seeing this ad?” feature always adds the caveat that “there could also be more factors not listed here”), and Facebook will still target ads to you based on your profile information and your location even when you turn personalized ads off. This doesn’t stop Facebook from collecting that information in the first place. There are limits, after all, to what Facebook wants you to know about what it knows about you.
Open Sourced is made possible by the Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.