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Data privacy debate heats up as Big Tech is accused of tracking users

"Off-Facebook tracking" a concern for consumers
Data privacy debate heats up as big tech platform tracks users off its app
Posted at 4:38 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 11:36:08-05

When you're using social media and those apps on your smartphone, do you realize in many cases someone else is watching? News5 has a look at these privacy concerns and some steps you can take to limit what you share.

The data privacy debate is a hot one right now as consumer advocates continue to demand more transparency from Big Tech in how we are being tracked online and how that information is being used.

This comes as Facebook recently admitted to tracking what you do outside of its app and website. "Off-Facebook activity" includes information that businesses and organizations send back to Facebook about your interactions with them. Facebook says it uses this data to show you more relevant ads, but many in the consumer realm say it's an example of how tech platforms are pushing the envelope invading your privacy.

"When I'm on these platforms I'm being watched. My data is being collected and that data is very valuable to me. So these services are not necessarily free. They are taking something that's very valuable to me and are using it and sharing it in a whole host of different ways," said Danny Katz of the consumer watchdog group, Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

"And because it's so valuable the platforms have every incentive to violate users privacy to suggest new products and services to them. And because we don't have good privacy laws or a good construct around privacy laws in the United States. This kind of makes for a toxic mess for consumers," said Diana Moss of American Antitrust Institute.

Facebook does give you the option to turn this feature off, but many of our viewers may not even realize this was happening in the first place, or that there is a way to change this.

"They have no idea how much information they are giving and how that information is going to be processed and then fed back to them through these algorithmic recommendations. There's a huge misalignment as I said earlier about what consumers think they want in terms of privacy protection and what they actually do through their actions," said Moss.

Some apps and social media sites also offer privacy checkups. Facebook has a dashboard that lets you go through all of your privacy settings and adjust them at any time.

When you download a new app on your device, push notifications will ask you if you'd like to give access to things like your camera, microphone, or location. Experts say you may want to think through these things rather than giving that app or service access automatically.

If this is the first you've heard about the tracking of Off-Facebook activity and it's something you're uncomfortable with, here are some steps you can take to turn off the tracking:

From your phone, go into 'Settings and Privacy."

Then, select "Settings."

From there, scroll down until you see "Your Facebook Information" and select "Off-Facebook Activity."

If you want to turn off the setting, tap "More Options" and "Manage Future Activity."

You'll then be prompted to select "Manage Future Activity" again, and from there, tap the switch to off, next to "Future Off-Facebook Activity." Then you're all set!

If you want to clear the history that's already been stored, just return to the "Off-Facebook Activity" screen and select "Clear History."